Matilda literally starts with a bang, the one of a colourful and all-dancing birthday party. Without much further ado, we are introduced to the different characters in the play: Matilda as a studious, yet naughty book-worm; her brother as a lazy couch potato; her horrible mother and dishonest father, both devoid of parental instinct and love, but portrayed with great humour and flamboyant costumes. Such splendour is later brilliantly practised in the show with a dance between Matilda’s mother and Rudolfo, whose performance come straight from “Strictly”.
While adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s book, with the inclusion of all the great classic scenes, such as the gluttonous eating of a massive chocolate cake by Bruce, there is a lot there for adults too: the stereotype of silly and superficial women more interested in their looks than brains; the power of books and stories over mind-numbing television; the lack of ethics in lying and the importance of having the courage to defend one’s opinions. An essential difference with the book is the additional circus story about an acrobat and an escapologist which Matilda tells to her friend the librarian amidst beautiful shelves of books and background of an opening mansion model.
While always stunning, the stage design is at its most dramatic in the setting of Cruchem Hall, with rising desks from the stage-floor and colourful cubes inserted into the school’s gate. Although welcomed by nasty older boys onto the premises of her new school, Matilda also makes acquaintance with Miss Honey whose “Pathetic” music number is so much full of charm and drollery. At the other extreme is Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the infamous headmistress, adequately played by a gigantic man, and her control room, the threat of the “chokey”, where she locks supposedly misbehaved children, and her trophies for throwing… a skill which she impressively demonstrates in the theatre with a girl in pony-tails!
Of course, poetry is there too, particularly in the second half of the show, with the company singing “When I Grow Up” while balancing on swings, as well as the paper-cut animation continuing the circus story. This ends up intertwining with Matilda’s story and bridging the gap between dream and reality in the most unexpected fashion!