Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Matilda The Musical

Book: Dennis Kelly Music & lyrics: Tim Minchin
Royal Shakespeare Company
Palace Theatre, Manchester
18 September 2018 to 24 November 2018

While it’s unlikely Miss Trunchbull’s school, Crunchem Hall, will earn itself any Ofsted awards, Matilda The Musical is easily top of the class.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical theatre adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tale of the severely put-upon schoolgirl finally arrives in Manchester, eight years after its first outing. In that time it’s scooped up trophies – 85 to date – wherever it has played, and enchanted more than eight million theatregoers along the way.

You can add several thousand more here, for a touring production that delights from start to finish. The RSC hallmark of quality is evident throughout.

Dennis Kelly’s script, and especially Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics, add layers of thoughtful fun to Dahl’s original story, while the physical humour alone makes this one of the funniest shows seen in quite some time.

Much of that falls upon the hunched shoulders of Craige Els as Trunchbull. In shape and stature he jumps straight from the pages of Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake’s sketchbook. Els may have played the role for three years in the West End but there’s nothing time-worn about his performance.

Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill, as Matilda’s equally unpleasant parents, are a class double act, while Carly Thomas, as the aptly-named Miss Honey, adds just enough sugary sentiment, and strong singing voice, to the story.

In style and subject matter Matilda is of course not a million miles removed from that other stage show about the power of infant innocence, Annie. But in place of American alkaline schmaltz, there’s Dahl’s acid reflex to the corrupting power of adulthood. Righting those grown-up wrongs is captured in the poignancy of songs like When I Grow Up.

In the title role on opening night Sophia Ally (one of four children rotating the part) easily warranted her standing ovation, but the cast of stage kids around her – recruited from throughout the country ­– set an astonishing standard.

In movement alone someone, somewhere, has drilled them all to Trunchbullian levels of discipline!

Reviewer: David Upton