Matilda, who travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village, finally opened in Manchester this week as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s award-winning adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 book came to the Palace Theatre.
Though the show was half an hour late in kicking off, Dennis Kelly and Tim Michin’s impeccably written and composed musical was well worth the wait. As soon as the stage was revealed, the audience were given the opportunity to appreciate the impressive set, with a teasing introduction to the impressive company of children that are the essence of the production.
“My mummy says I’m a miracle,” chant the ensemble for the opening number. It’s a perfect inception for the evening as Michin’s witty humour proves to be pan-generational, tickling both adults and children in the audience alike with that dry sarcasm.
It’s the title character Matilda Wormwood, portrayed by Sophia Ally, who contrasts this humour by providing a sense of innocence, balancing an otherwise inherently cynical story.
Our first encounter with Matilda’s family highlights the polarity of the situation for our protagonist and the other children, thriving despite growing up unwanted and emotionally abused.
Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill tread the line between depicting that abuse and providing comedic value aptly as Mr and Mrs Wormwood, whether that be forgetting Matilda’s sex or wishing she didn’t exist at all.
With an element of villainy and dilemma established, we find Matilda in a library with one of the few adults that possess sympathy and kindness, Mrs Phelps. In this environment Matilda flourishes, and the stage evolves with her.
As she tells Mrs Phelps a story of love and tragedy, we begin to see the world through the eyes of the truly miraculous five-year-old, manipulated by her interaction between imagination and knowledge.
Matilda’s tale about her fabricated escapologist and acrobat is a narrative that continues throughout the show; we often revisit Mrs Phelps in the library, sat on a stool whilst battling with her emotions as Matilda relays a further chapter in the account of the two characters she has contrived.
Away from the library, we often follow Matilda at school. This is where most of the action happens, commencing with the brilliant School Song, within which the cast combine electric visuals with pinpoint choreography to put together one of the standout routines of the night.
School also becomes a conflict zone, where the truly terrifying Miss Trunchbull pales Matilda’s parents into looking like Wills and Kate. Craige Els puts in a sterling performance as the production’s leading role, especially impressing in The Smell of Rebellion, where a personal highlight is the headmistress being transported across the stage on a vault box with a stentorian brass accompaniment.
For Matilda fans, Trunchball is the source of so many of the book’s most iconic moments. Amanda Thripp’s punishment for having pigtails is ingeniously complemented by old school sports commentary. Similarly, hearing Bruce Bogtrotter’s side of the story when faced with the chocolate cake is extremely entertaining.
Despite the humour, the show is not short of poking your emotions. When I Grow Up speaks to so many children, and touches on the theme of helplessness explored in the book.
Equally, Matilda’s duet with the Escapologist in I’m Here becomes so much more pertinent when considered alongside My House, which is faultlessly performed by Carly Thomas.
As a standalone production, Matilda the Musical has everything that any theatre-goer could want. It is emotive, it is funny and it is visually spectacular. However, sitting on the far right, my obstructed sightline did occasionally cause me to miss key components of the scene.
Nevertheless, it would seem that the process of anglicising the show for the British audience has not taken away from Matilda the Musical’s stellar appeal. Roald Dahl, dare I say it, would be very proud of what his creation has become.
*Matilda the Musical is playing at Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday, November 24. You can buy tickets HERE.