It’s hard not to compare villainous characters in children’s theatre to Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull. The marvellously mean and deliciously disgusting Matron in The Midnight Gang could give her a run for her money.
Jennie Dale, known to children from CBeebies’ Swashbuckle, and to Chichester audiences as the solicitor in Me and My Girl, relishes playing the scourge of the children’s ward in this new David Walliams adaptation as much as her character enjoys licking the topping from a patient’s iced bun.
Walliams’ reinvention as a children’s author has already produced two West End shows. There’s no reason why Dale Rooks’ production of The Midnight Gang, set in a Scooby Doo-esque old hospital, shouldn’t follow suit.
Bryony Lavery’s adaptation is both pacy and emotionally substantial. Joe Stilgoe’s songs are full of variety and wit, including a gloriously sinister duet for Matron and the Headmaster. Stand out number Breakfast Time sees the children eat cornflakes from their bedpans while Lucy Vandi’s Tootsie lets rip with a trolley-rolling tribute to Tina Turner.
The hospital belongs to a bygone era. But the children who form a gang in order to fulfil each other’s dreams – with the help of Dickon Gough’s kindly Porter – are engagingly contemporary. In this performance, Cody Molko is hugely likeable as Tom, who decides to “style it out” when forced by Matron to wear a pink frilly nighty.
With an industriously staged ‘naked old flying lady incident’ and a message about the power of imagination and the importance of not judging on appearance, this is a perfect prescription for half term.