Magical, marvelous, magnificent Matilda

Bookworms: Matilda (Kerry Ingram) with librarian Mrs Phelps (Melanie La Barrie).

 Pictures Manuel Harlan

The Courtyard Theatre

Royal Shakespeare Company

*****

MATILDA is just magnificent. It is as simple as that. If you are looking for something as a holiday treat look no further. This is best show around the Midlands at the moment and the best new British musical for ages.

The Royal Shakespeare Company have a knack of sprinkling their magic dust on every production they touch but with Matilda they seem to have emptied the whole sack.

The musical is based on the Roald Dahl best seller and has been written by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Aussie comedy superstar Tim Minchen.

The pair should be congratulated on a snappy, witty script which is a delight for children and adults alike and music which, although not having a song you immediately think of as a future standard, is lively, infectious and at times poignant and sad.

Kerry Ingram as Matilda. If this performance is anything to go by she should have a a rosy future ahead

From the opener of Miracle through to the finale of Revolting Children the songs keep coming and, unlike some shows, here the music not only fits in and adds to the enjoyment it also moves the story on.

The direction by Matthew Warchus keeps the whole thing moving at a cracking pace and the choreography by Peter Darling manages to fill the stage without making it look cluttered.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, Matilda is a genius of a little girl who is despised by her parents because she is not only clever but reads books and tells stories. Her saviours are Mrs Phelps, the librarian who lets her take as many books as she wants, and her teacher. Miss Honey.

Three teams of youngsters play the roles of the children, our night was the blue team with 11-year-old Kerry Ingram as Matilda. She is a tiny dot but has a big voice and a big presence on the stage.

James Beesley as Bruce, who, incidentally, manages to devour  chocolate cake the size of Dudley, although I think there might just be a trick involved in that one, stands out as one of her classmates and has a powerful singing voice while Misty May Tindall as Lavender , her school friend, shows exquisite comic timing.

All ten children in the team are excellent with none of the face stage front, look as if you are happy, permanent fixed smile which is instilled in youngsters by some stage schools. This was natural, boisterous, kids being  . . . well kids.

Not that the adults were left behind by the youngsters with the grown ups more than ably led by Matilda's mum Mrs Wormwood played by Josie Walker. She sees reading as some sort of diseases and her life is an obsession with ballroom dancing and her partner, the shiny leather panted Rudolfo played by Michael Rouse. Mrs Wormwood could probably apply for a doctorate in stupidity.

Young Rouse should be on piece rate as he also turns up as teacher, doctor and priest in the opening scenes.

The highly dysfunctional Wormwood family with dad (Paul Kaye) and mum (Josie Walker) with, seated, moronic son Michael (Peter Howe)

Mr Womwood, Peter Howe, thinks children should be silent and gain all their learning from watching TV, like his son Michael, Peter Howe whose speech is a series of grunted echoes of the current conversation.

Mr Wormwood is a sort of Arfur Daley-cum-Del Boy who sells cars by clocking speedos and using the age old sales technique of lying which seems to work ok  . . . until he tries it on the Russian Mafia.

Star of the show though is Bertie Carvel as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the ex-Olympic hammer throwing champion and now principal of Crunchem Hall, a private school to discipline small children. 

Carvel is evil personified - with a few beautiful comic asides thrown in - who ill treats, punishes and abuses the children on a whim with her/his/its strange clothing, ready glare and a permanently hooked claw of a left hand. A great baddy and great fun.

Protecting them is Miss Honey, played with wonderful understatement by Lauren Ward who brings a beautiful voice to the proceedings.

Matilda has been telling a long tale about an acrobat and an escapologist in parts to Miss Phelps in the library nuy then she suddenly discovers her tale is true and Miss Honey is a central part of her story which takes us to the final, shocking confrontation with Miss Trunchbull.

The production creates a tale well told with some wonderful comic moments, some sad episodes, no little terror and a brilliant evening's entertainment. A word too about Rob Howell's set which fills the theatre and has classrooms, piles of books, a dressing table and all manner of things popping up and disappearing back into the stage.

The children will be revolting until 30-1-11. Highly recommended.

Roger Clarke 

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