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Review Round-up: RSC Move Critics with Matilda

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The Royal Shakespeare Company's musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda, which has music and lyrics by Australian comic Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly opened at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon last night (9 December 2010, previews from 9 November) to rave reviews.

The story of the little girl with astonishing wit, intelligence and psychokinetic powers is directed by Matthew Warchus, whose previous West End credits include the large-scale Lord of the Rings musical, and who embarks on another musical adaptation, Ghost the Musical.

Bertie Carvel plays the formidable head mistress Miss Trunchbull whilst Lauren Ward takes the role of teacher Miss Honey. They are joined in the cast by Paul Kaye and Josie Walker as Matilda's parents Mr and Mrs Wormwood as well as three teams of children in the younger roles. The production is designed by Rob Howell with choreography by Peter Darling.

Matilda continues its run at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford home until 30 January 2011.

Meriel Patrick

"It becomes obvious within the opening bars of Matilda that this is no ordinary family show .... What really makes this show jaw-droppingly good... is the fabulous script and score, the vibrantly created cast of characters, and Roald Dahl's story which is told through and by them. Tim Minchin's music and lyrics sparkle with wit and energy, demonstrating a touch of genius to rival that of the eponymous Matilda. Complemented by Dennis Kelly's book, they make up a piece which is by turns riotously funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant ... Kerry Ingram - one of three girls taking on the title role - is an utter delight ... Bertie Carvel is wonderfully malevolent (and surprisingly athletic) as the unpleasant headmistress Miss Trunchbull, while Josie Walker and Paul Kaye both amuse and appal as Matilda's horrendous parents ... With strong appeal for younger audience members, this is a perfect festive family show, but it would be a mistake to regard it as something just for the kids : I defy the hardest-bitten cynic to watch it and not come away grinning – and probably having wiped away the odd surreptitious tear. It will be a travesty if the production doesn't ultimately transfer to an extended London run."

Michael Billington

"In Kelly's version, Matilda is not just a voracious reader and opponent of injustice. She is also a prophetic storyteller who magically prefigures the plight of her one schoolroom champion, the aptly named Miss Honey. Tim Minchin's ebullient music and lyrics add to the gaiety of the show while inevitably shifting the focus at times away from Matilda ... Kerry Ingram (one of three children playing Matilda) always draws the attention back to the heroine through her awesome mix of solemnity, vulnerability and singing talent ... And Bertie Carvel offers one of the comic performances of the year as the terrifying Miss Trunchbull ... Carvel suggests an unusually athletic Richard III ... Matthew Warchus' direction also keeps the stage a riot of kaleidoscopic activity and Rob Howell's design rightly uses the alphabet as its basic building block ... Lauren Ward as Miss Honey is touching without being glutinous. But the real success of the show, I suspect, lies in the fact it has something for everyone. Child spectators will relish its picture of adult insensitivity and injustice while adults will enjoy a display of showbiz expertise that may not be pure Dahl but that is nevertheless wholly delightful."

Steve Bennett

"Roald Dahl’s Matilda seems to be the musical Tim Minchin was born to write... And, my, has he done the original proud ... A rotating cast of three young actors share each children’s part, but Kerry Ingram, who sang, danced and acted her way through the lead role on opening night, is a fantastic presence ... Bertie Carvell is like an evil Alastair Sim as the butch Miss Trunchball ... In contrast Lauren Ward is quietly sympathetic as the softly-spoken Miss Honey ... Paul Kaye... spivvs it up flamboyantly as Mr Wormwood ... Minchin’s lyrics are flourished with this sort of wry humour that’s served him so well on the comedy circuit. For example, Josie Walker, as the gloriously garish Mrs Wormwood, flaunts her ignorance by singing ‘it doesn’t matter if you don’t know nowt/as long as you say it with clout’. Amid the big numbers are some tender ballads such as "My House" ... Proceedings bundle along a quite a pace ... Designer Rob Howell... can’t hope to replicate the style of Quentin Blake, who so distinctively illustrated the original book, the set here has a magic of its own ... Such showbiz sparkle means it’s hard to imagine anyone, of any age, who wouldn’t be charmed and entertained by this spirited production... except perhaps those rude and ignorant Wormwood parents."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"I turned up to the RSC’s new musical version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda expecting a pretty classy children’s show. What I wasn’t anticipating was the best British musical since Billy Elliot ... Dahl was never much of a stylist, and his book seems flat in comparison with this joyous adaptation, which adds splendidly witty, instantly hummable songs, dazzling choreography, a cast of impossibly cute and delightful children and a fantastic star turn from Bertie Carvel as the revolting sadist of a headmistress, Miss Trunchbull ... Peter Darling, responsible for the dance routines in Billy Elliot, is every bit as inventive here ... The songs fizz with humour and great take-home melodies. Kelly and Minchin suddenly look like the brightest prospects for British musical theatre since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim ... Josie Walker and Paul Kaye make a thrillingly grotesque double-act as Matilda’s boorish, selfish parents, the Wormwoods ... But it is the child actors, all aged from eight to 11, who steal the show with performances that stay just the right side of cute and in the case of Matilda herself, beautifully played on press night by Kerry Ingram ... I predict that this show will be unstoppable ... The show only ended an hour ago, and already I’m longing to see it again."

Libby Purves
The Times

"It is a vast technical musical built around a small child and her fantasies and stories, and that is the secret. I suppose it needs the Royal Shakespeare Company’s cunning and resources to endorse literature ... Dennis Kelly’s adaptation grips from the start ... Paul Kaye in a loud check suit as the wide-boy father and Josie Walker as the mother obsessed with ballroom dancing ... Tim Minchin’s lyrics, to his own music, are so good that the temptation to write them down could, at any point, make you miss some extraordinary sight ... As for Miss Trunchbull, the evil headmistress, words fail me. Bertie Carvel, vast bust resting on a cruel leather belt, yellow teeth glinting, lantern jaw out-thrust, is a nightmare dame ... The final moments of Miss Trunchbull’s physical education class, culminating in her gigantic form doing a lethal forward roll, shade into a mournful aria about her secret dreams of a world without children. It made me drop my pen. So, no risk of spoiling the insane post-Dahl twist at the end, or giving away the best pun, or mentioning the cartwheels. A hoot."


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