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Theatre Review: Matilda the Musical ****

Michael Cox reviews the global hit, finding it 'hilarious, engaging and moving'.

It’s hard to believe it’s taken the RSC’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda over eight years to come to Scotland. What started as a Christmas show has become a global phenomena, winning accolades the world over. With such praise and acclaim, and after such a long wait, many productions don’t hold up, feeling past their prime and come across as a let down.

So, the best thing going for Matilda the Musical is that it is not only worthy of every rave and award it has gotten but is a pertinent night at the theatre that feels crushingly relevant for today’s world.

The story follows young Matilda Wormwood, a highly-intelligent girl with a curious, cheeky nature and a love for reading. Her family don’t understand her: they hate books, believe that girls shouldn’t think and are much more interested in money, looks and TV. Things don’t improve when her father enrols her at an awful school run by the horrid Miss Trunchbull. But maybe young Matilda has found a champion through Miss Honey—a meek new teacher who sees Matilda’s potential.

As with many of Dahl’s children books, the outrageous, cartoonish storytelling makes abuse and neglect palpable. Some of the adults in Matilda’s life are horrible, and in another story the events would come across as serious tragedy. Here, the antagonists are barriers for Matilda to triumph over, and each gets their comeuppance.

Matthew Warchus’ production embraces Daul’s world. His design team revel in the over-the-top nature of the story through colourful, abstract concepts, and Peter Darling’s choreography is constantly energetic. But the real standout is in the writing: Dennis Kelly’s book and Tiim Minchin’s music and lyrics are fantastic—vital in a story about the important of words.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with a terrific collection of adults and children who constantly impress. Standing out are Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia as Matilda’s parents, Carly Thoms as the dependable Miss Honey and Elliot Harper’s brilliantly entertaining Miss Trunchbull—bigger than life and teetering between pantomime and villainy.

And yet this whole large production hinges on the performance of a young girl, and on press that girl was Scarlett Cecil—who constantly impressed not because of her age but because of her pluck, energy and ability to constantly win the audience’s empathy. Asking any young person to hold a large show together is a near-impossible task—and Cecil performed phenomenally.

In a world of fake news and image winning over thought, Matilda is a hero for our time. And while the large space of the Edinburgh Playhouse sometimes zaps the comprehensibility of Kelly and Minchin’s words, Matilda the Musical is a triumphant production: hilarious, engaging and moving.

Runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until April 27 before continuing its UK tour.

Tags: theatre

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