Buoyant Matilda leaps of the page
Roald Dahl’s wicked genius runs amok in tale of the smart little girl one-up on her spiteful parents
Matilda is a typical Roald Dahl character — a precocious child, a voracious reader, who stands up to her repulsive anti-reading parents and who tackles and overcomes bullies at her school, Crunchem Hall.
She protects kids who are having a tough time from the gargoyle of a headmistress Miss Trunchbull, former hammer-thrower champion who still practises her skills by whirling uncooperative girls by their long pig-tails. Dahl never flinched about a bit of brutality.
This elaborately mounted Royal Shakespeare Company production is an exuberant, colourful affair, an almost overwhelming parade of elaborate scenery, dance, gymnastics and inventive choreography.
I must admit that I find Dahl’s wicked characters more alive in print and in the imagination, and seeing the sadistic Miss Crunchbull portrayed by a man doesn’t make her any more grotesque, although I suppose small children might find her frightening.
Nicola Turner played Matilda with extraordinary poise and charm as she challenged the villainy and chicanery of her parents and Miss Trunchbull, even though she had to compete at times with the vagaries of the sound system and the intrusive accompaniment from the band.
The show manages to combine comedy, nastiness and exhilaration, from Matilda’s wonderfully awful parents as played by Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill, and the magic of Matilda’s extra mental powers, along with the vivacity and skill of the children’s chorus.
Matilda’s father is a wide-boy salesman and her dancing/gymnast mother declares that books are disgusting.
The final short display of gymnastic expertise from the children and Craige Els as Miss Trunchbull raised a deserved cheer for them all. Dahl, for a change, has a pleasant adult – the loving, kindly, teacher Miss Honey (Carly Thomas) who changes the mood in the second half with her story of her cruel aunt and her wistful rendition of My House.
The tale-within-a-tale told by Matilda stretched the material without particularly improving it. And the first half might have moved faster – it takes a long time to get going– while listening to songs in chorus when the words are not clear is frustrating.
But it’s still no exaggeration to describe this vibrant production as spectacular.
‘The show manages to combine comedy, nastiness and exhilaration’