“Please don’t cry, dry your eyes, wipe away your tears”
Despite naming it my show of the year in 2011 (or maybe because of that), I’ve not been back to see Matilda the Musical since it opened at the Cambridge Theatre four years ago. I had such the perfect emotional journey with the show that I just didn’t want to alter that experience by going back and risking it being something of a disappointment, especially with such impossibly high standards to live up to from that amazing original cast and Bertie Carvel’s iconic Mrs Trunchbull.
Four years is long enough though I think, and when the opportunity to revisit the show presented itself, I accepted the offer with just a little trepidation. Those nerves were quickly dispelled, even as soon as entering the theatre to witness the infectious enthusiasm of an audience of all ages, and the reassuring sight of Rob Howell’s design with its multi-coloured letters strewn across the set. And as Laurie Perkins’ orchestra launched into the familiar strains of ‘Miracle’, my heart leapt and I wondered how I had left it this long.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I loved the show just as much all over again with goosebump moments hitting me from start to finish. I still maintain that the staging of ‘When I Grow Up’ is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a theatre and it made me cry with such happiness I was glad for the darkened auditorium. The vibrancy of Peter Darling’s choreography remains an absolute delight too, the mixture of actual children and adults dressed as children a thrilling combination throughout.
And even with a completely different cast, Matthew Warchus’ production still works wonders with Roald Dahl’s characters. Children’s Casting Director Jessica Ronane and her team have to be commended for their continued amazing efforts at unearthing such young talent – Lara McDonnell’s performance is deeply impressive for its willingness to show us as much of the little girl Matilda is as well as the extraordinary heroine and Remi Gooding is irrepressibly good fun as the recalcitrant Bruce.
Lisa Davina Phillip gives librarian Miss Phelps such warmth and Haley Flaherty sketches the sweet-voiced Miss Honey’s growth in confidence with beautiful softness. And my fears about missing Carvel were unfounded as Craige Els gave a marvellous new edge to Miss Trunchbull, as vicious and visceral as ever. In beleaguered times for the British musical (but when were they ever not), it is gratifying to see Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s work continue to succeed on such a scale.