Well that was good fun!

The world is not currently short of musical theatre productions, and they vary from engaging to frankly dreadful, but seem to resonate with audiences as a safe genre for a night out at your local theatre, or even further afield if the star power is high enough to justify the travel costs. I admit to being utterly perverse – I love a bit of classical Italian opera but am a bit meh about the modern equivalent however popular it seems to be. The difference, I claim, is the quality of the music. Matilda has forcefully reminded me not to be so simplistic.

The component parts of this mighty production are never going to disappoint us. Roald Dahl was a remarkable writer and particularly good at writing for children with wildly improbable empowering tales of children with remarkable powers and intelligence. The RSC have a virtually constitutional role in the presentation of the best of drama, Bard and beyond. And for this show, the genius addition of Tim Minchin who makes the music work so well with Dahl’s words. He is up there with those Italian maestros in terms of his skills and ability to turn in a memorable tune.

The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) have created a magnificent production in a way that must challenge their productive teams to the utmost. Whilst there is a large and very capable adult cast the real heavy lifting of this show on the path to success relies entirely on some very capable children in nine key roles, and most importantly the dominating lead character of Matilda is probably the youngest person on stage. At tonight’s show this role was filled by the confident and talented Sophie Woolhouse with great elan in a faultless performance. The kids in this show must have a lot to learn before they make the curtain rise – this is not a production where they come on and be cute for a few minutes then depart. The nine youngsters carry this show, and are also in Dahl’s world the sensible ones in a parade of barmy and inadequate adults.

Matilda is the unwanted child of Mr and Mrs Wormwood. Mother (Rebecca Thornhill) is obsessed with ballroom dancing, Father (Sebastien Torkia) is the dodgiest car dealer ever. They cannot cope with their daughter’s bookish brilliance, so send her off to school run by the beastly Miss Trunchbull (Elliot Harper) who qualified herself as an educational role model by throwing hammers about in a sporting manner. Matilda seeks solace with librarian Mrs Phelps (Michell Chantelle Hopewell) and then her devoted teacher Miss Honey (Carly Thoms). The children at the school Matilda is sent to are all well defined characters in their own right brought to life by the nine youngsters on stage. Particularly engaging tonight was Chantelle Tonolete’s performance as Matilda’s friend Lavender, who cannot contains her exuberance about her mischief making.

Matilda faces coldness and hostility at every turn of her life, but she has found solace in reading voraciously and the books have given her the superpower of an unique intelligence and insight into the the bizarre world around her. She will not be bullied or thwarted, but she still dreams of being loved and cherished. When really up against it in the second act Matilda reveals an altogether more terrifying superpower!

Dahl as ever has given us characters who may be slightly cartoonish but are all deeply familiar to us in many aspects. His writing makes us think about how we treat each other, and gives us a clear roadmap about how to be a better person and how values of love and kindness will always triumph over the bullies. He gives kids everywhere, and young girls in particular, an immensely impressive heroine and role model beautifully expressed by Sophie Woolhouse as an unflappable genius in a tiny human form. The musical is enormous fun from start to finish and is a perfect high-point treat for families getting to grips with the long school summer holidays. This show has been called the musical of the decade. This may seem a big claim but it is certainly the musical that I have most enjoyed for several years. So gather up your daughters and sons and get yourselves to Norwich Theatre Royal before they decide that you might be suitable for a little bit of revenge, Matilda-style!

© Julian Swainson 2019

Matilda, Tuesday 16 July-Saturday 17 August. Eves 7.30pm, Mats Wed and Sat 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£58.50. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups. Special Offer to U26s (minimum age 18) – ten single tickets available at £5 per person for every performance on the day in person at box office or over the phone, but not available online. Audio-described performance on Wed 31 July & Sat 10 Aug 2.30pm. Signed performance on Sat 10 Aug 2.30pm. Captioned performance on Wed 24 July 2.30pm.

To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.

Read more here: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/special-5-ticket-offer-for-under-26s-to-see-award-winning-musical-matilda/