Having won Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards and the WhatsOnStage Awards in the past 18 months, I knew that in booking to see Matilda, I was in for an absolute treat. And I was of course, spot on.
Based on the Roald Dahl classic and children's favourite, it follows the journey of young Matilda as she 'grows up' and encounters all sorts of situations before dealing with them in a manner you would expect of a girl three times her age. Her powers and scope for maturity are just as mind-boggling as the rest of the production. It is a sincerely touching, well thought out and incredibly well-executed piece of musical theatre with something for absolutely everyone. The second Act in particular - indeed perhaps the second half of the second Act, is perhaps the most innovative and awe-inspiring half an hour I've ever seen. Tim Minchin's appropriately deft and emotional lyrics top it all off whilst the book remains largely true to the story we all know and love.
I was fortunate enough to witness Lollie McKenzie's debut performance as Matilda, having joined the cast just two days beforehand. And for a first night, and to be so young and with little experience, she coped very, very well indeed. I only noticed one small slip-up early on in the first Act when she came in at the wrong time. But her voice was flawless, her portrayal sweet and innocent as should be, she was in all the right places at all the right times. Lollie's take on Matilda's show-stopper, 'Naughty', was as good as I've heard anyone else do from all the various promotions of the show and for this she should be highly commended. She interacted well with her on-stage parents as well, which shows her great talent due to the lack of performance time with them beforehand. It all just clicked and felt natural. Rightly, she got the standing ovation and the biggest cheers of the night. Lollie is in Matilda for at least six months to the best of my understanding - and seeing as she can only get better from hereon in (if that's possible), audiences will be in for a treat.
Now, if Matilda wasn't the star of the show, Alex Gaumond as Miss Trunchbull certainly was. The previous incumbents of the role, David Leonard and Bertie Carvel, both won rave reviews - indeed, Bertie won just about every award going here and on the opposite side of the Atlantic for his portrayal - and in line with this, Alex will receive another excellent appraisal from this blog! It is not a surprise considering he was everywhere! Through the audience, in the wings, marching up and down, trampolining, forward-rolling and a stunning voice to boot. He was genuinely menacing and extremely well fleshed out - knowing exactly what he was doing with the character's every move: there was no doubting him, which is again testament to his abilities as this was only his third show in the role. At the same time, he tapped very well into the comedy of the show and his timing was impeccable. All in all, an oustanding show from Alex... 'Maggots!'
Haley Flaherty has played Miss Honey since the first cast change of the show and she turns in an excellent supporting role to the main two characters. Her part in 'When I Grow Up' is particularly well sung and touching because the song takes on a whole new meaning when she appears. Physically, she does very well in reacting against the much superior Trunchbull and takes on a whole new persona when dealing with the children: shown perfectly in her biggest number, 'Pathetic'. Haley is experienced in the role and it shows, and it was a pleasure to listen to her on stage.
The featured ensemble members, James Clyde, Kay Murphy and Lisa Davina Phillip all turn in stellar performances too as the supporting cast. Clyde and Murphy have great chemistry, wonderful costumes and excellent comic timing, whilst Phillip as the librarian Mrs Phelps is the voice of reason and support to Matilda's greatest passion and for that we connect thankfully with her light heart and infectious laugh. Special mentions to Tommy Sherlock who had a fantastic voice as the Doctor and also Antony Lawrence and Lara Denning as the mysterious Escapologist and Acrobat... how they feed into the story is extremely clever and very innovative.
Along the same lines, the rest of the ensemble should be applauded for such an energetic, lively and well choreographed performance that they made look effortless. In particular, the creative team and dancers should be applauded for their genius use of A-Z lettering blocks to form the gates of Crunchem Hall - outstanding teamwork and ingenuity from all concerned. It was just one moment of many that made you sit back and go 'wow'. This extends right through, though, to the eight or nine extra children who all play classmates of Matilda, Bruce and Lavender - it was incredible seeing their pure and youthful talent (all of which had no trouble keeping up with the pacy and difficult dancing) on a stage and in a theatre that is currently so welcoming to the younger generations. Needless to say there were many wide-eyed children sat around in disbelief during the final number and in the bows: what a great way to inspire future actors and actresses.
The set too is one of the best you'll see. Just walking into the auditorium is spectacular enough. It is bright and colourful and completely in keeping with the action of the show. The desks and gates (mentioned above, next to everything else that we see on stage too) are inspired and multi-purposeful in ways it is difficult to comprehend.
A final word for Paul Kieve and his use of illusion which, much like in his most recent West End success, was outstanding in every way. Lights, lasers, falling cups, pigtails, quick changes - whatever it was, it worked: wasn't over the top or distracting. Never enough time to dwell on one thing, just straight on to the next. Just clever, and that's how we like it.
Any drawbacks at all? There were very few. Perhaps the one slow moment, when it was possible to be distracted, is halfway through the second Act, when it is just Matilda and Miss Honey in the latter's house. A lot of exposition happens here as the climax of the show builds from this point onwards but, in an audience with many children around, it was clear many were restless and tired of the scene. But as mentioned, the rest of the show, from the gym scene and 'Smell of Rebellion', more than makes up for this very small blot in the copybook.
The rest of it all is a triumph. Well done to all involved, old or young. Worthy of every single accolade it has received, Matilda the Musical will be here for a long time to come I am sure.
At this performance, the cast was:
Lollie McKenzie (Matilda), Alex Gaumond (Miss Trunchbull), Haley Flaherty (Miss Honey), Lisa Davina Phillip (Mrs Phelps), Kay Murphy (Mrs Wormwood), James Clyde (Mr Wormwood), Lara Denning (The Acrobat), Antony Lawrence (The Escapologist), Joshua Lay (Rudolpho), Antonio Magro (Children's Entertainer/Sergei), Tommy Sherlock (Doctor), Joshua Wyatt (Michael Wormwood), Mike Denman (Henchman), Juliet Gough (Henchwoman), Madeleine Harland (Cook), David Rudin (Henchman), Garrett Tennant (Bruce) and Ella Tweed (Lavender).
Also in the cast are Joseph Davenport, Katy Lee, Gary Murphy, Hollie Taylor, Amy Thornton, Fabian Aloise, Elise Blake, Cristina Fray, Georgia Pemberton, Lara Wollington, Daniel Dowling, George King, Ben Middleton, Robbie Warke, Emily Robins, Evie Sneath, Marcus Billany, James Gardner, Gabriel Werb, Ellie Botterill, Madeleine Haynes, Ruby McNamara, Frreddie Haggerty, Ashton Henry-Reid, Sonny Kirby, Rhianna Dorris, Tallulah Treadaway, Thierry Zimmerman, Claudia Rose-Carler, Sophie Naglik, Talia Palamathanan, Kai Brosnan, Kalifa Burton and Jamie Kaye.