Opened 9 December, 2010
Roald Dahl's children's book rightly extols the joy and value of
knowledge for its own sake. It is mordantly ironic that the RSC's
musical adaptation of it should open on the afternoon that MPs voted
for university funding changes which will entirely instrumentalise
higher education provision. There is even a moment in the show which
can be interpreted as obliquely satirising the burden of student loans.
And, with Matilda's neglectful father and mother respectively glued to
the TV and fixated upon ballroom dancing glory, the brainless modern
pop-culture ideal of media-talent success is not far from adapter
Dennis Kelly's sights either.
This makes the show sound like a moralising fable; Dahl's stories are
somewhat didactic, true, but the lesson is always firmly embedded in
enjoyment and excitement. The same is true of Kelly's script and
Matthew Warchus's production; indeed, it overflows the bounds of the
show proper, with Paul Kaye as Matilda's father delivering an interval
number about the joys of telly. It pains me just a little to say how
good Tim Minchin's songs are: I have never warmed to him as a comedy
singer-songwriter, but he really delivers here. Most of the numbers are
packed with word-play (in the opening minutes alone we hear "miracle"
rhymed with "umbilical", and Matilda's mother complains in the
obstetric ward about being "dressed in hospital cotton/ With a smarty
front bottom"), but the sentimental vein of the story is also expertly
catered for; the beautiful Act Two opener "When I Grow Up" will surely
be a crossover hit for some saucer-eyed moppet.
The youngsters in the cast are one part winsome to two parts impish: at
the performance I saw, Kerry Ingram's petite Matilda gradually found
her strength, James Beesley revelled in the world's biggest burp and
Misty May Tindall began what may be a long career in scene-stealing.
Sometimes they even managed to divert attention from Bertie Carvel, who
seems to be specialising in urbane grotesques and here appears in
fearsome yet hilarious drag as tyrannical headmistress and
hammer-throwing champion Miss Trunchbull. When the Russian mafia turn
up as a final threat, Kelly even squeezes in a linguistic gag on the
"da" of "Matilda". You see, knowledge is both useful and wonderful in
itself, not to say fun. Ministers, please note.
Copyright © Ian
Shuttleworth; all rights
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