MATILDA THE MUSICAL REVIEW. Original story by Roald Dahl. The musical’s book written by Dennis Kelly. Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin. Orchestration and additional music: Christopher Nightingale. Choreographer: Peter Darling. Set and Costume Design: Rob Howell. Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone. Illusion: Paul Kieve. Developed and directed by Matthew Warchus. Musical Director: Louis Zurnamer. Presented by Pieter Toerien & GWB. Artscape.

Matilda the Musical Review

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.

Matilda the Musical! Where do I start reviewing this incredibly polished, detailed, professional, delightful, brilliant, poignant production? I could borrow every superlative dictionaries offer. But that still wouldn’t give readers a fair reflection of how stupendous this production is … it would just be a series of disconnected adjectives.

So, maybe my starting point is offering a ginormous THANK YOU to Pieter Toerien (aka Mr South African Theatre) for behind-the-scenes negotiations that (must) have gone on long before Matilda the Musical reached Artscape’s Opera stage. Toerien is remarkably modest, but without his driving force, combined with his passion for theatre, our city, our country, our artists, our audiences, our general public would be sorely deprived. Pity we don’t have knighthoods …

Now to Matilda herself.  The Matilda on show at Saturday’s evening performance was Kitty Harris – a remarkably confident young lass, who in her charming singing and speaking voice is extraordinarily articulate. (Sadly, it’s in old age when memorising screeds and screeds becomes difficult.) Still, even the young require exceptional sponge-like memories to learn all Tim Minchin’s lyrics and rhythms and then reproduce them with dance action and interaction attached. Which Kitty did flawlessly.

Matilda the Musical Review

Matilda the Musical review cast

Now, what about the others? Writer Roald Dahl is a master at making light of the darker side of life. Through Minchin’s music and lyrics, Dahl’s humour teaches how an abused child can stand up to bullying. And he presents it in a way that could give courage to any youngster living under similar unfortunate circumstances.

School principals, always (well almost always) put the fear of death into children.  But hopefully they will never encounter someone like Miss Trunchbull (Ryan de Villiers). A giant of a figure with a slight hunchback, he/she is the original bully. Dressed in military uniform, boots and knee high socks, he/she is quite the Sargeant Major where nothing escapes his/her beady eye (The Smell of Rebellion). For his height, De Villiers is extremely agile. However, it’s when standing upright overlooking the classroom and rising up and down on tip toe that he becomes a typical Ronald Searle St Trinian’s caricature.

Matilda’s father and mother Mr and Mrs Wormwood (Stephen Jubber, Clare Taylor) couldn’t be worse parents.  Taylor, a dizzy blonde with a voice like a crow, can’t fathom Matilda’s love for books. Costumed in a sexy, slit-to-the-thigh glittering skirt, floral blouse, pink stockings and high heels, her tango (Loud) with the rubber-boned Rudolpho (Kent Jeycocke) brought the house down.

As an actor Jubber has tackled parts as diverse as Shakespeare’s Macduff to Rooster in Annie. However, to characterise Wormwood as the nasty, crooked piece of work he is, Jubber drew upon his multiple talents to sing (like a Hadeda) and use his limbs in a jelly-like fashion. Telly with Michael Wormwood (Zac Gabriel Werb) proved how he values brainlessness. Smart kids like his Matilda are a no no. And as for the Russian Mafia – definitely not a quintet to meet in the dark.

It’s a trifle unfair to pick out only a few of Matilda’s friends, but mention must be made of Matilda’s best friend Lavender (Taylor Salgado), Eric (Keeran Issacs), Henriette (Megan Saayman), and Bruce (Jack Fokkens) who led the Children. Their energy, co-ordination, discipline and professionalism astounded. Not to mention their group courage and split second timing jumping over the horse in their Fizz-ed lesson. Also not forgotten is kindly, gentle, caring teacher Miss Honey (Bethany Dickson) who sadly considers herself pathetic because Miss Trunchbull scares her. Then there is sympathetic librarian Mrs Phelps (Nompumelelo Mayiyane) to whom Matilda tells a story. Their gentleness brought sane balance to frenetic on-stage action.

Matilda the Musical Review

Frenetic, daring action!

And frenetic action there was.  The School Song saw the children daringly climbing oblong ladders; Chokey Chant found them demonstrating “the place you are sent to has nails”, and in When I Grow Up, the audience bit their fingernails as one by one they swung, over the orchestra pit into the auditorium, on swings.

Rob Howell’s superb imaginative and innovative sets, that backstage crews soundlessly moved in and out to change scenes, Hugh Vanstone’s lighting, Paul Kieve’s illusions, and Peter Darling’s choreography put together by Matthew Warchus, made this a thoroughly novel and fun show. Leading his seven piece band, musical director Louis Zurnamer did a grand job keeping his band and young singers in sync.

I end with a gripe. Once again sound levels too often drowned out the singers’ diction. This is such an ongoing problem, it’s difficult to comprehend why, with the technology available, sound engineers simply can’t get that balance right. Is it they can’t be bothered? None-the-less, this production is a joy from start to finish. Miss it at your peril.

Read more:

The young cast of Matilda

Miss Trunchbull: Who is she?

What: Matilda the Musical review

Where and when: Artscape until 15 January 2019

Book: Computicket

WS