One of the biggest shows of the year at Milton Keynes Theatre has opened this week – Matilda The Musical is running for the whole of June and has already sold out most of the seats at many of the performances. But does it live up to the hype? Well, yes.
For a show which centres on a talented cast of children, you might be forgiven for thinking it might be an evening of precocious showing off, but right from the opening number, in which the kids sing about how each of them is told by their parents how special they are, it is clear that this is a show for the parents as much as the children. Roald Dahl’s genius was that he never talked down to his young readers and this show does justice to the story with a healthy amount of light and shade alongside plenty of fun and magic.
The musical took a year to finish as the producers tried various combinations of actors – at one point, Matilda was the only role played by a child, then she was going to be a puppet – before opening to rave reviews and going on to win over 85 international awards.
With a live orchestra and lots of original songs, at the heart of the show is the brilliance of Tim Minchin who had never written a musical before his sharp comic wit makes for some genuinely funny lyrics throughout the show. There are plenty of jokes that grown ups will find funny but it’s not the sort of show where lines are deliberately sent over the younger audience member’s heads – in this show, children and parents will be laughing together at the same things.
There’s some very clever staging with an alphabet building block set design running through the show which ties everything together visually with the story and some fantastic choreography, especially the synchronised swinging and school gym scenes.
The title role is shared between four children, Annalise Bradbury, Lara Cohen, Nicola Turner and Poppy Jones who performed on press night. This is a demanding role for any actor and whole show really hangs on the central character but Poppy really deserved her standing ovation. She was confident, natural and word perfect in her performance. Special mention should also go to Luella Asante-Osuwu who played Matilda’s best friend Lavendar and Elliot Stiff as Bruce who also gave great performances.
The adult characters are also well cast with Craige Els as a brilliantly despicable Miss Trunchbull and Carly Thoms as Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey.
Based on the press night cast, this is a true West End-quality show which totally delivers on its promise and will remind grown-ups what it’s like to be a kid and children enchanted and conscious of how some strategic naughtiness can be a powerful weapon. 5 stars out of 5.