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

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - MORE ON SUNDAY - MICHAEL MOF­FATT

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’

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