Vivienne Kennedy reviews The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, playing at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 8 June 2019.
Matilda The Musical must be the most eagerly anticipated show to arrive at The Bristol Hippodrome for quite some time. Does it live up to the hype? I’d answer that question with a resounding ‘yes!’
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s novel by Dennis Kelly and featuring music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, this show was a long time in the making. Dahl himself didn’t find it easy to write the book, taking a while to come up with a ‘really decent second half’ and after his widow and the Dahl estate approached The Royal Shakespeare about the possibility of adapting it for stage in 2003, it took another seven years before it premiered in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010.
West End and Broadway productions followed and eventually this first UK tour, which began over a year ago and has finally landed in Bristol – it was worth the wait!
The show tells the story of five-year-old Matilda Wormwood. The parents of her peers all believe their children to be special… precious… little princesses…brave soldiers…
Not Matilda’s parents, they think she is stupid, an assumption mainly based on her love of reading. I find myself getting quite angry with them and totally triggered when a library book meets an untimely end at her father’s hand – I may be taking it too seriously!
Also, they, especially her father, refuse to acknowledge she’s a girl, having never fully recovered from the surprise of their new-born ‘son’ not having a thingie!
She’s actually as far removed from stupid as it gets. By the time she starts school she has already learned how to read, knows all her times tables, and, as we discover in the second act, can speak fluent Russian, having decided it would be easier to read Dostoyevsky’s work in the language it was written in.
Matilda also has a vivid imagination, is a gifted storyteller, and can move things with her eyes – a superpower that comes in very handy when delivering evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull her comeuppance.
Like many good stories, it demonstrates that good will always triumph over evil. It also makes the point that ‘sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty’.
I have many favourite moments, too many to list, but When I Grow Up (such great use of swings) and the phys. ed routine would both be near the top.
The show looks fantastic, thanks to excellent set and costume design by Rob Howell and brilliant choreography courtesy of Peter Darling (I love that name, “Peter, darling, your choreography is divine”). If I have one tiny, tiny criticism it would be that it’s sometimes difficult to make out all of Minchin’s lyrics but possibly a little tweaking of the balance between orchestra and voices would fix that.
As far as the cast goes, well, I could just list them all and praise their performances but instead I am going to name just one, the fabulous Olivia Juno Cleverley*, who makes her professional debut in the lead role of this production. Is she the youngest person ever to get a standing ovation at The Bristol Hippodrome? It was so well deserved – watch out for this name, she’s going to go far!
Matilda The Musical is recommended for a general audience. As an advisory to adults who might bring young people, the show is suitable for ages 6 and up. For further information, and to book online, visit atgtickets.com
*I should add that four Matilda’s will take to the stage in turns during the run, each one in a team with eight other young actors, and I am sure they are all equally brilliant.
Photo: Dave Betts Photography – Olivia Cleverley, one of the four actresses who share the role of Matilda in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical UK and Ireland Tour marks the show’s arrival in Bristol outside The Bristol Hippodrome.