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Matilda the Musical review at Cambridge Theatre London

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This much-anticipated RSC production could easily have been a disappointment, with expectations high after its triumphant Stratford-upon-Avon opening last year and the stream of awards that followed. It is nothing of the sort.

The best pieces of musical theatre come from great collaborations – the right people being in the right place at the right time – with each ingredient complementing the other. Composer/lyricist Tim Minchin, librettist Dennis Kelly, director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling, set/costume designer Rob Howell and illusionist Paul Kieve have done more than preserved the spirit and mischievousness of Roald Dahl’s classic tale – they have created a fresh and intelligent family entertainment that brings joy to both adults and children (crucially never patronising the latter).

It is also boasts an outstanding ensemble of all ages, led on this occasion by incredible young actress Kerry Ingram as Matilda, the exceptional child with special powers who fights back against the bullies that surround her (four girls share the role).

To escape her genuinely gruesome parents, played with relish by Josie Walker and Paul Kaye, Matilda buries her head in books or tells stories to the loveable librarian Mrs Phelps (Melanie La Barrie). This is the only kind person in the little girl’s life until she meets teacher Miss Honey who, thanks to Lauren Ward, goes on the biggest emotional journey of all.

Bertie Carvel’s portrayal of Mrs Trunchbull is brilliant for so many reasons, the main one of which is that it avoids caricature. Yes, the dastardly headmistress is an ogre, cruel and abusive to her charges (“to teach the child, you must break the child”) and often quite bonkers, but Carvel occasionally brings a bizarre feminine, humanity to the part. As a result, the audience is scared and amused by ‘her’ in equal measure.

Production Information

Cambridge Theatre, London, October 25-February 12

Authors
Dennis Kelly (book), Tim Minchin (music and lyrics), based on the book by Roald Dahl
Director
Matthew Warchus
Producers
Royal Shakespeare Company, Andre Ptaszynski
Cast includes
Kerry Ingram, Bertie Carvel, Paul Kaye, Josie Walker, Lauren Ward, Peter Howe, Melanie La Barrie, Gary Watson, Ruby Bridle, Zachary Harris, William Keeler, Lucy May Pollard, Louis Suc, Jemima Morgan, Katie Lee, Callum Henderson
Running time
2hrs 30mins
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