Review – Matilda, Cambridge Theatre

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Well you don’t have to be Mystic Meg (whatever happened to her?*) to predict the Olivier Award winners at next year’s ceremony.

We’ve dusted off our crystal balls and see the Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Award forcing either Nigel Harman (Shrek) or Sharon D Clarke (Ghost) to clear a space on the mantlepiece for the trophy.

Now we’re adjusting our bespoke turbans to say the Best Actor in a Musical award is in the bag: one Bertie Carvel for his Miss Trunchbull. Likewise the Best Musical Award, which should go the way of The Evening Standard Awards earlier this week. And who knows, the final musical category could well be filled by the young gals who take the titular role in Matilda The Musical.

Of course we have only seen one Matilda but if Eleanor Worthington Cox is anything to go by the Oliviers could go down the Billy Elliot route and award it to the four who share the lead. Thank goodness Mrs Worthington Cox ignored Noel Coward’s advice and did put her daughter on the stage.

But perhaps musical moppets are the result of laboratory experiments these days. Where do they find them? Are they really adults grown and stunted like bonsai trees? The kiddie-winkies involved in this show are extraordinary. Where do they find such poise and confidence? They perform on swings and they dance on their school desks. Health and Safety officials must be getting into a right old tizzy.

One of them – Ted Wilson – was downright adorable. And these are words we never thought we’d write about any child. The audience were “oooing” all over the place. Phil even caught himself releasing an involuntary “awwwww” then quickly checked himself lest he find himself on a list.

But then Phil didn’t schlepp up to Stratford where this RSC production earned an uncharacteristically enthusiastic report from Andrew. So there was much to live up to.

The Whingers are of course far too old to have grown up with Roald Dahl‘s story of an over-bright child raised by grotesque uncaring telly-addicted parents (Josie Walker and Paul Kaye having great fun) who finds comfort in reading and a caring teacher Miss Honey (a delightful Lauren Ward).

So yes, it is all in place at the Cambridge Theatre now, the brilliant set (Rob Howell), the chirpily inventive choreography (Peter Darling), Matthew Warchus’ superbly creative direction, Dennis Kelly’s witty book and of course Mr Carvel’s hilariously evil headmistress who takes scene-stealing to absurd and dizzying new heights. See how he works every line, gasp as he vaults a gym horse, marvel at how he wrangles that extraordinary bosom.

Then there are the music and lyrics by the brilliant Tim Minchin. Now on the strength of what the Whingers could make out they are playful, sparky and catchy. But they are too often drowned out by the band when the ensemble sings. Very little of the lyrics to the opening number “Miracle” could be heard. Would the sound be hastily sorted out? No. A brilliantly staged number involving the alphabet and climbing of the school gates suffered similarly with only some of the clever lyrics identifiable.

This didn’t stop the audience whooping and hollering. They were clearly pumped up (in both senses: the Whingers seemed to be surrounded by chorus boys) and a standing ovation was on the cards whatever happened. The Whingers were happy to struggle to their feet but we do hope that the sound problems will be sorted by the time you go and see it. We would go again in a trice and not just to catch what we missed.

Some of it is very funny and some of it quite moving (little wet things appeared in the corners of Andrew’s eyeballs at the end) and Andrew was (again) rather shaken by the strangely sad overtones of the bittersweet “When I Grow Up”.

The Whingers decamped (if that’s the word) to The Crown public house on Seven Dials to celebrate their enthusiasm. But their theatre chit-chat was somewhat overshadowed by the appearance of one David Cameron who dropped in for what was apparently a post-footie match quickie. Surreal. Andrew took some convincing. “Is it really him?” The Whingers were flummoxed. Neither ever expected to find themselves sharing a hostelry with an incumbent Prime Minister. “Or is it just a good-looking version of him?” the Whingers wondered. Which is just weird and frankly cast a bit of a pall over the celebrations.

*She’s at The Sun apparently. She was at the News of the World until its demise, but presumably she saw that coming.


Even with the sound problems this remains a must-see.

Rating score 5-5 our cups overfloweth


11 Responses to “Review – Matilda, Cambridge Theatre”

  1. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Overheard by member of school party going into today’s matinee: “I hope they have sound effects and stuff. But I don’t want vibrations.” She got her wish on the first, but the rest of us were probably purring too loudly to satisfy her on the second.

  2. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Sorry – overheard FROM member of etc.

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    It was a really good time, wasn’t it? Clearly an easy win for best new musical. Shame it’s not in the Haymarket – it was exploding out of the Cambridge.

  4. webcowgirl Says:

    (Much like the abovementioned bosom, I must add …)

  5. Gwen Pew Says:

    Thanks for this review. Want to go see it soon but wasn’t sure if I was ready to have one of my favourite childhood stories potentially ruined by glitzy West End lights… Still, it seems worthwhile so I think I’ll give it go.

  6. Matthew Says:

    Can’t stand it when adults talk about younger generations as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘great’, it sounds as though they’re suprised that kids are capable of doing things of great measure – which they’re clearly not. Yes, the young cast may well be exeptional – but with more children up for the role of Matilda then lots of adult West End leading roles – surely thats expected? There seems to be an attitude of utter amazement whenever a child does something great, that caused the Whingers to rave, but when an adult leading lady gives the same or better quality of performance… no such thing.

  7. The sound has not been sorted out. We (party of 4) went to see Matilda this week. As we are adoring fans of Tim Minchin we were looking forward to enjoying his lyrics but we were unable to hear them clearly. We also felt the big numbers would benefit from a bit more oomph; the children’s voices seemed thin. This was extremely frustrating and at just over £58 each ticket you would expect to hear clearly.

  8. Was underwhelmed I’m afraid and could only give it three starsPerhaps a victim of its own hype, I’d been hoping for the next Billy Elliot but it didn’t grab me by the throat. .

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