Matilda the Musical review: top of the class at Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End

Matilda the Musical review: top of the class at Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End

Around 90% of the time, stage and film adaptations of excellent books cut. They trim and they chop, weeding out the literary padding that often makes the book so resonant. Plotlines get squished to fit into a two-hour window. Characters are sliced out of existence. But the show we watched at Cambridge Theatre took Roald Dahl’s enduring favourite, and plunged new features into the storyline. We came out zinging. Here’s our Matilda the Musical review.

Matilda, in case you’ve missed this cultural cornerstone for children in the UK and US, features an extraordinarily bright young girl who triumphs over overwhelming odds. Brought up by parents who are hideously pushy against learning, or any kind of self-improvement, Matilda teaches herself to read. In her school, ruled like a prison by Miss Trunchbull, the terrifying headmistress, she finds an ally in the lovely Miss Honey. The teacher is as sweet as her name suggests. Dahl’s story takes an almost Stephen King-like turn when Matilda realises she has telekinetic powers, and uses them to avenge a dastardly crime from long ago.

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Gina Beck as Miss Honey. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

New actors in Matilda the Musical

Matilda’s run in London’s West End is now into its seventh year. The reason behind our invitation was so that we could check out some of the new talent injected into Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s enduring favourite. Two new Matildas join the cast of four. On our night we watched a winsome-faced Isobel Hubble wow the audience. Her demure features and stone-coloured shift dress contrasted sharply against the gruesome technicolour of her parents, played by Rob Compton and Holly Dale Spencer. Their characterisations were as nauseatingly good as their costumes were loud. Hubble’s Matilda, on the other hand, was pallid in appearance but the young actor played the role with a vibrant energy. She launched into her songs and dance routines with mesmerising aplomb.

Miss Trunchbull, played by Hayden Tee at the start of his new stint in the role, commanded as much awe from the audience as she did fear from the schoolchildren. Part Pantomime Dame, part hideous skulking beetle, Tee managed to somehow play Trunchbull as grotesquely bulky and hunched, and terrifyingly athletic and strong. Trunchbull’s fearsome energy was the reason my six-year-old daughter cowered against me a couple of times during the performance. The scene where she tossed one of Matilda’s classmates by the pigtails was pretty scary (and was executed using impressive special effects). But Tee conveyed just enough humour to give the audience a good chuckle at Trunchbull, in amongst all the quaking.

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Photo by Manual Harlan.

A new storyline in Matilda

Matilda the Musical built on Roald Dahl’s original by introducing two new additions. The first was Rudolpho, the faux-Italian dance partner of Matilda’s Mum. All leggy muscle, he simpered round the stage, acting as a foil to Matilda’s gruff father. The second was a plotline where Matilda told an eager librarian a tale of love between a circus acrobat and escapologist. This story came to have vital importance later in the show. It was nicely done, in a stage setting where heaps and heaps of books were the bedrock of the props.

After a slightly shaky start, where the sound of the orchestra slightly masked the children’s singing voices, the youngsters who formed the ensemble of Matilda’s classmates burst forth into a staggering display of talent and stamina. Tom Brown’s Bruce was particularly appealing as the boy forced by Trunchbull to eat an enormous chocolate cake. His dance performance at the end, rocking out on top of his school desk, had my usually uber-cool eight-year-old son laughing and clapping in delight.

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The ensemble cast was excellent. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Verdict

If you live near London, or if you’re visiting the UK capital and want to see a West End show, then I’d wholeheartedly recommend Matilda. As an adult, I’d watch it again even if I didn’t have the kids with me. And when asked what she’d like as a treat while her brother comes overseas with me on a press trip, out of all the options available to our daughter – including having her own weekend away – she chose going back to see Matilda. The show really is a special event, and it’s worth every penny of the ticket price.

We were given press tickets so that I could write this Matilda the Musical review. All views are my own. To find out show times, prices and to book tickets at Cambridge Theatre or one of the venues where Matilda is touring, visit the Matilda the Musical website.

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6 Comments

  1. October 5, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    This looks so good, it is the one musical I am desperate to take my children to see! Really glad it lived up to all the hype and you enjoyed it, always good to see when the cast can get over a shaky start and still nail it.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 3:19 pm

      The cast were incredible, especially the kids.

  2. October 6, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    Thank you for the thorough review, Nell. My son gets nervous about seeing new things – so it was really helpful to read this through and know which bits might be different. Hopefully we will get chance to see it when we come to London next month.

    • Nell
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 3:32 pm

      Ooh, let me know what you think, if you do!

  3. October 8, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    This is useful reading, thanks Nell. We’re looking for a show to take our boys to before Christmas. They’re 7 and 4 and I’d quite like to take them to something a little more grown up than the Julia Donaldson adaptations we’ve seen in the past. However, I think my 4 year old might not be quite ready for this. Maybe next year!

    • Nell
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 3:41 pm

      I’d say5/6 and above is the perfect age. It’s a fantastic show, though.

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