The Royal Shakespeare Company and Louise Withers, Michael Coppel and Michael Watt. With Chokey Productions, Just for Laughs Theatricals, Glass Half Full Productions, Paula Marie Black, Greenleaf Productions and Michael Lynch. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 26 May 2017
Adelaide’s reputation for missing out on the large east coast touring productions is quickly becoming a distant memory, and praise-be, for this Australian touring production of Matilda The Musical is a wonder to behold.
So prepare yourselves for another glowing review. One to follow an ever growing archive of positivity and praise which flows from critics all over Australia and the world; not to mention 5 Tony Awards and 13 Helpmanns, to boot. There is, quite simply, nothing to criticise about this spectacular story book adaptation – even from some of the worst seats in the house.
The musical is based on the novel by Roald Dahl, its book is by Dennis Kelly, the music and lyrics by Tim Minchin – and his satirical stylings infuse every aspect of the fantastic score. The show is fun, sad, uplifting, hilarious, clever and, well, brilliant.
Matilda is the miracle child of the Wormwoods, a down and out family who’d prefer she was a boy who paid more attention to the T.V. and displayed a lot less intellectual prowess. Worse, they wish she never existed. The child prodigy already reads and speaks at an advanced adult level, but her family problems are just the beginning. Attending school for the first time brings yet more trouble for poor Matilda, but also hope in the form of a kind and dedicated teacher, Miss Honey, who recognises and encourages her genius. The friendship they forge gives them strength to face their bullies and allows Matilda to discover just how truly special she is.
Matilda, played by Izellah Connelly in this performance, blows us away with a strong and pitch perfect vocal performance. The cast of children is immensely talented - you have to keep reminding yourself that you are watching a group of primary schoolers. It's almost impossible to believe that they could be so accomplished and professional at such a young age. Bravo!
The children are joined on stage by an equally talented set of adult performers, who bring some of Roald Dahl's most iconic characters to life. Miss Honey is as gentle and kind as we imagined reading the book as a child. Lucy Maunder perfectly captures her tenderness and vulnerability, and her presence warms the stage. Leah Lim, as Mrs Phelps, is authentically animated and, with Maunder, provides the perfect foil for the hyperbole of Matilda's idiotic and cruel family.
Marika Aubrey is completely believable as Mrs Wormwood, Matilda's horribly mean and neglectful mother. Her performance of Loud with Travis Khan as Rudolpho is suitably low brow and very entertaining. Daniel Frederiksen plays the feckless Mr Wormwood with vigour, and successfully executes on his character's emotional about-turn at the show's conclusion, showing genuine affection for his daughter at the last minute.
Without a doubt though, James Millar steals the show with his formidable portrayal of the dreaded Miss Trunchbull. Every child's worst nightmare, Trunchbull towers over student and teachers alike with hammer-throwing physic and a mono-brow you can spy from the back rows. Millar stalks the stage with palpable disdain and perfect comedic timing, being hilariously dreadful in all the right ways. One can imagine his characterisation would have made Dahl smile.
Matilda The Musical is a modern musical by which to measure all others. Rob Howell’s stunning set is now one of the most instantly recognisable. Its ingenious construction coupled with spectacular lighting design by Hugh Vanstone and innovative, high intensity, choreography by Peter Darling is unforgettable. Of particular note are numbers like When I Grow Up, which takes place on huge swings that propel out into the auditorium, and School Song, which finds agile performers scaling a wall of alphabet blocks as the letters are presented cleverly throughout the song.
This show is a veritable feast for the senses, and certainly not to be missed; one for the child in all of us.
When: 21 May to 16 Jul
Where: Festival Theatre