MATILDA THE MUSICAL
MATILDA THE MUSICAL, Lyric Theatre for some months - book now for a Christmas treat. Photography by James Morgan, above: the company and right Bella Thomas..
After a longer run of previews than a lot of independent theatre seasons, the musical Sydney has been waiting for had a lot of hype to live up to. Those previews did two things, however, and that was obvious on the official opening night. First of all, the buzz that’s been generated had become audible all over the city and second, the show was so beautifully run in, it had every chance of living up to expectations. And it did. It does. It will.
Matilda the Musical is that rare thing: a show that’s genuinely for all the family. It’s not a kids’ show with a few blue-tinted jokes thrown in for the grown-ups and neither is it a fun show for adults that will also do for the kiddywinks. Rather, the story, lyrics, characters and outcome are sophisticated, truthful, tough and funny in ways that any child will recognise and any adult will remember from childhood. It’s altogether remarkable and brilliantly realised.
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel, lyricist and composer Tim Minchin and book writer Dennis Kelly have turned it into a spectacularly witty, intelligent and irresistible show that engages at every turn. It’s a Royal Shakespeare Company production and the hardware – set, lighting and costumes – is imported from the original UK production. But the skill, talent, discipline and sheer hard work that have clearly gone in to bringing the show to the stage – and the care in casting the characters – is an object lesson in how to do it. There isn’t a moment of “she’ll be right” or “that’ll do” – every scene, every costume, every character and every minute of stage time is as good as it can be. And it is very, very good.
Starting with the opening number, Miracle, the scene is set for the tongue-in-cheek and acerbic nature of the show: how many parents in the audience would admit to their own inflated belief in their brats’ marvellousness? Although Matilda’s parents, the ghastly Wormwoods (brilliantly awful Marika Aubrey and bodgie doofus Daniel Frederiksen) can expect to have DOCS banging on the stage door any day as they fail to understand or cope with their genuine mini-marvel Matilda.
Four girls alternate in the title role and by all accounts each is brilliant in her own way. Molly Barwick, Sasha Rose, Georgia Taplin and – the night I was there – Bella Thomas have to tackle and master an enormous role. Matilda is rarely off stage and almost never shuts up. It would tax an adult performer and the girls have to be remarkable – and are.
At the other end of the charm spectrum is the head mistress of Matilda’s new school Crunchem Hall. Miss Trunchbull is part psychopath, part Joyce Grenfell, part Margaret Rutherford and, as played by James Millar she is one of the most memorable creations to stalk a Sydney stage in a long while. It would be easy for Trunchbull to slip over the line into pantomime dame territory, but Millar plays her straight and true and therefore the beastly creature is the vital cornerstone of the drama.
Timidly but staunchly opposing Trunchbull in recognising Matilda’s smarts is her form teacher Miss Honey. Again, this character could so easily over balance into whimsical parody, but Elise McCann gives her 100% seriousness and so delivers the necessary lump-in-throat moments to leaven the general mayhem. Likewise Cle Morgan as Matilda’s librarian friend Mrs Phelps, a Jamaican matron who merrily feeds the small girl’s ravenous appetite for books. Original director Matthew Warchus must get major praise for his work with the Australian cast.
The pleasure and idea of books permeates the entire production via the ingenious set – books and more books and blocks and tiles bearing letters that spell out rude words such as “burp” (designer Rob Howell, lighting Hugh Vanstone) – while the rare treat for girls of all ages lies in watching the trials, tribulations and final triumph of a spunky young female leading the way.
All in all, Matilda the Musical is the treat you and yours have been waiting for if you’ve been waiting for an intelligent, beautiful, funny, sad and ultimately triumphant delivery of Australian musical theatre talent. Not to be missed.