Friday, 18 March 2016

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, March 17, 2016 ****

Book by Dennis Kelly, Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Based on Roald Dahl’s book
Produced by Royal Shakespeare Company & Louise Withers, Michael Coppel & Michael Watt
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, until July 31, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
This review also online at Herald Sun Arts on Thur March 17 & in print on Fri March 18, 2016. KH

Matilda The Musical bounds onto the stage in Melbourne in a flurry of books, bullies, battleaxes and boofheads.

Featuring Tim Minchin’s cunning music and lyrics and Dennis Kelly’s book, the musical is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s novel about five year-old Matilda Wormwood (Ingrid Torelli), a child prodigy with an alarming intellect and a remarkable interest in reading classic novels.

Matilda’s crude, neglectful and stupid parents (Marika Aubrey, Daniel Frederiksen) loath her braininess and send her to be tamed at the hellish Crunchem Hall, a Dickensian school run by the thuggish Miss Trunchbull (James Millar) who believes all children are maggots and are guilty of – well, everything.

Minchin’s ingenious, witty lyrics illuminate characters and nimbly advance the narrative while his tunes include chants, anthems, big choruses and forlorn ballads.

Two standout songs are Miracle (My Mummy Says I’m A...), the rollicking opening chorus, and Revolting Children, a boisterous, hilarious routine in which the children join forces and rebel.

The School Song is also enhanced by Peter Darling’s audacious choreography and Matthew Warchus’ direction, with kids clambering acrobatically over a prison-like iron gate.

Matilda’s obsession with books is embodied in Rob Howell’s eye-catching design comprising enormous bookshelves and giant building blocks decorated with letters and musical notes.

Ingrid Torelli is a wonderfully precocious sweety-pie as Matilda, and she effectively captures the poker-faced restraint of this neglected, unloved girl who is determined to be a champion of books, justice and honesty.
 Ingrid Torelli as Matilda

Matilda not only has exceptional reading ability but also manifests telekinetic ability and, weirdly, clairvoyant storytelling.

The charming child cast is multi-talented, but Daniel Stow’s Bruce is a sympathetic chappy who is constantly in trouble, particularly when he nicks the Headmistress’s chocky cake and becomes an anti-hero.

Warchus’ production emphasises the grotesquery of Dahl’s characters and Millar is a hilariously sinister villain, revelling in Miss Trunchbull’s bullying behaviour, playing this absurd, hammer-throwing gold medallist as a surly clown with a touch of pinto dame. Remember Aunty Jack?

Frederiksen provides a funny, grotesque portrait as Matilda’s dishonest dad, a dodgy car dealer who hates books and brains, loves TV, ignores or abuses his exceptional daughter and calls her ‘Boy’.

Aubrey has fun as Matilda’s ludicrous mother, a blousy, peroxide blonde, British bogan who, in this stage version, is obsessed with ballroom dancing.

Elise McCann has a fine voice and is the still point as sensible, dowdy, oppressed teacher, Miss Honey, who encourages Matilda and elicits the first hug from this undemonstrative child.

The inclusion of Matilda’s made-up story about two circus performers who have a baby is one of the problems in Kelly’s script and the production.

Her fanciful tale, told in installments to the sassy, excitable librarian (Cle Morgan), may be imaginative and romantic but it interrupts the flow of Dahl’s original narrative.

Some broad comedy becomes shouty and face-pulling, and the arrival of Russian crims causes the ending to falter.

Minchin’s songs, the big chorus numbers, and Miss Trunchbull are highlights in Matilda, and Roald Dahl would be happy to see his characters populating the stage in this family musical.

By: Kate Herbert.

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