Roald Dahl lived a life full of adventure and escapade, and wrote many magical tales and books, with some of his finest works being both about and for children. His robust style sometimes made him enemies, who wrongly lambasted him for intolerance while completely missing the main point of his writing, which is about his huge faith in the power of humanity and decency to overcome all obstacles. Matilda is one of his best loved stories, portraying a remarkably strong and intelligent girl whose warmth and wisdom and sheer exuberance defeats the many things blocking her path, including her own monstrous parents. Dahl has created some of the most distinctive and memorable characters in literature, and in Norwich we are lucky enough to have many of them on stage together at the atmospheric Maddermarket Theatre thinly disguised as the Limelight Theatre Company.
Sometimes, with a school or young people’s show you may feel the need to make allowances for youth or naivety, but you can forget that with this energetic and accomplished production. Director Anna Lawrence has a way with a young cast that gets them all performing brilliantly with no self conscious awkwardness, they clearly are all having a great time on this stage but never forget their characters or their place on a very busy stage.
Matilda the Musical is a show first commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon, and those people know a bit about good theatre.
Good casting is the building block for any great show, and Limelight have assembled a team for Matilda who are just right for this happy and positive tale. Matilda is performed with terrific energy and style by Florence Rymarz, who gets the balance between being a sassy young woman and a neglected young girl just right, with the confidence that makes Dahl’s Matilda such a memorable character and a positive role model for every young person. She sings well and has perfect comic timing.
Her champion in the awful school is Miss Honey, a caring teacher who spots Matilda’s talent immediately. Chloe Colman gives us a moving and skillful performance in this key role. Their school nemesis is the renowned butch bully Agatha Trunchbull, a great villainous role that gets a thoroughly wicked and good account from Finn Richardson-Gunn. Matilda’s parents are so awful that they would hopefully be done for neglect these days, but Harrison McKay and Florence Bullion bring Mr and Mrs Wormwood so convincingly to life that we cannot help sharing Matilda’s ultimate sympathy for their hopelessness, with Caitlin Plumb also just right as Matilda’s dozy brother.
This show gives many cast members a chance to impress us, and they do. Look out for Joseph Newton as the greedy Bruce Bogtrotter, and Harper Boon as the hapless little Amanda, thrown over a fence by the vengeful Trunchbull just for having pigtails. Tanvi Karé is just right as the librarian Mrs Phelps, who encourages Matilda to tell a fantastic tale that we see acted out before us. With a cast of 35 there are many other distinctive characters and great performances and they all contribute to making this a memorable bit of theatre.
This is a show full of cheerful music, reckless adventure and a bit of mild peril and it reminds us all that the power of warmth and positivity overcomes the bullies who try and thwart us along our way. The cast are confident and clever, and work well to give us a show that is a delight not just for their mums and dads and siblings but for all of us lucky enough to get a ticket. If you haven’t bought one already, make sure you do, or I will be sending that Miss Trunchbull round to sort you out. And you wouldn’t want that.
Matilda Jr by Limelight Theatre Company is at the Maddermarket Theatre until Saturday 4th June with performances at 2.30 and 7.30 every day. Book your tickets directly with the Maddermarket box office on 01603 620917 or online here: https://maddermarket.co.uk/event/roald-dahls-matilda-the-musical-jr/
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 1st June 2022