Latest Review – Matilda The Musical [Palace Theatre, Manchester] [UK Tour]

Photo by Manuel Harlan


Palace Theatre, Manchester

Until Saturday 24th November 2018

October 2018 marks 30-years since Roald Dahl’s moving and magical tale of the brave and precocious young bookworm Matilda was first published in the UK, so what better way for Matilda The Musical to mark the occasion than with its first ever UK tour.

Still packing out houses at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End, and having now been staged in numerous venues across the globe since the Royal Shakespeare Company production first premiered back in 2010 – including a Tony Award winning Broadway run from 2013-17 – it is perhaps surprising that it has taken so long for the multi-award winning smash hit to embark on a nationwide tour.

Adapted from the original novel by Dennis Kelly, and featuring a wry and witty songbook by Tim Minchin, Matilda tells the story of 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood, an avid reader – old and wise far beyond her years – who enjoys nothing more than immersing herself in the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Dickens to escape the harsh struggles of the real world, much to the disgust and derision of her neglectful and verbally abusive parents: a corrupt, con-man car salesman father and vain, vacuous mother.

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Upon starting school at Crunchem Hall, Matilda quickly befriends her kind and caring teacher, Miss Honey, who is quick to nurture her new pupil’s intellectual abilities, though it is also at Crunchem that Matilda first encounters her formidable and sadistic new headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull; a tyrannical, larger-than-life figure who terrorises her students with her fiery temper and extreme punishments.

Set within a striking frame of coloured alphabet blocks courtesy of set and costume designer Rob Howell, director Matthew Warchus’ polished and immersive production is exceptional, bursting with bold colour, fluid stagecraft and theatrical innovation, all enhanced by the superb work of Rob Howell, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, and choreographer Peter Darling.

Darling’s slick, intricate choreography is very well executed by a well-drilled cast, though due to pace and technical demands, a few of the vocals do unfortunately suffer. Paul Kieve’s illusions too add a real sense of excitement when conjured, but they are sadly too few and far between.

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Reinforcing the principle themes of the novel, Kelly and Minchin are careful to highlight the stirring moments of pathos and hope that effectively ground the piece. Despite being a family musical, Matilda is never afraid to tackle some very dark, adult topics head on, and in doing so it gives the narrative a real depth and poignancy, making things all the more relatable.

Many of the famous scenes are faithfully recreated alongside some new elements, most notably a recurring story-within-a-story sequence in which Matilda recounts a dark and evocative story to the friendly librarian, Mrs Phelps, over a series of scenes; a story which is then cleverly interwoven into the main narrative.

Matilda and Miss Honey’s relationship is brilliantly explored via their parallel journeys, with each using their own determination to encourage the other to flourish in the face of adversity.

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Craige Els is outstanding as the imposing Miss Trunchbull, reprising a role he has played in the West End for a number of years, and there is excellent work from a fiesty young Sophia Ally as Matilda, Carly Thoms as the vulnerable and kindly Miss Honey, Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill as the vile Wormwoods and Michelle Chantelle Hopewell as Mrs. Phelps.

Last night’s press night buzz may have been dampened slightly due to some technical issues (delaying the opening by around 30-minutes), though things soon got underway without a hitch, and any disappointment was surely engulfed by the energy, nostalgia and spectacle of what proves a dazzling production.

Running Time: 2 hours and 35-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 24th November 2018.

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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