I can’t recall as perfect a night in the theatre as the one we spent in the Courtyard last night. We were as transfixed as the little girl in front of us, although we perhaps got slightly more out of Tim Minchin’s witty lyrics and Dennis Kelly’s sharp script. With Minchin’s characteristic irreverence and sheer comic genius, the songs all zip along, packed with more syllables per line than should be strictly possible. Kelly’s script does Dahl’s original story justice while keeping the pace swift and the action highly satisfying.
Rob Howell’s simple but effective alphabet-themed design is charming in the best sense of the word, and gave the strong cast (guided by the expert hand of Director Matthew Warchus) ample room to play. The stage became classroom or playground seamlessly, and gave the energetic choreography (Peter Darling) room to dazzle. The stunts (SPOILER ALERT) were convincing and slick. Watching Bertie Carvel’s monstrous Miss Trunchbull swing a child (Lara Weaver) round by her plaits was horrifying, and made the child in front of us climb onto her Dad’s lap. Wise move.
The children in the cast were amazingly professional, and could teach the adult cast a thing or two about diction. Kerry Ingram, who played Matilda the night we saw it, was superlative – an impressively accomplished singer, actress and dancer at eleven years old. With the success of the whole show resting on her tiny shoulders, Ingram pulls off the role with aplomb. She is touching, plucky and highly entertaining, with excellent comic timing and a powerful set of lungs. The other child actors are great, too, and form a tight ensemble. Kuan Frye, who played Bruce, has a truly incredible voice, and an electric stage presence. Tiny Shivum Gupta was adorable as Eric, and all the children made Carvel’s huge, menacing Miss Trunchbull look even larger and scarier.
Carvel also provides a delightful contrast to Lauren Ward’s angelic Miss Honey, who is the kind of teacher that every child wishes they could have. Her scene with the ballroom-dancing Mrs Wormwood (Josie Walker) is priceless, and superbly choreographed. Walker, a vision in platinum curls and pink fishnets, is a monstrous mother. She nicely balanced being one of the villains of the piece (and Kelly does not shy away from the emotional abuse heaped on Matilda’s head by her parents) with providing comic relief – while staying the right side of pantomimic. Mr Wormwood (Paul Kaye) was great too, and he managed to have an even bigger personality than his stunningly awful lime green check suit.
If there are quibbles, then they are small ones: the addition of Matilda’s story-telling, while an effective dramatic device and a neat way to advance the story, doesn’t quite work plot-wise, and the denouement is glossed over for this reason. Matilda’s ‘super-powers’ aren’t really explored as fully as they could be, which lessens their impact. However, as I say, these are minor complaints in what was otherwise a wholly successful and enjoyable evening.
It was delightful to see so many excited children in the theatre, and it is a testament to the script, direction, cast and crew that the theatre was silent apart from frequent bursts of laughter. It takes a remarkable show to keep such a mixed age-range captivated, and this is it.