Melbourne is going mad for Matilda, the Tim Minchin musical based on the famous Roald Dahl book. Getting a ticket could be one of the hardest things to do during its Melbourne season.
This is certainly a show that has won people’s hearts, perhaps because it is what I would call a subversive musical. It is its own creation, is quirky in the best sense and makes its own rules. It dips and weaves as it takes us through the story of a brilliant and brave young girl with the most appalling parents and headmistress in history, Mr and Mrs Wormwood and Agatha Trunchbull, respectively.
Keen-eared theatregoers will pick up on the literary references, such as the fact that before she has started school Matilda has already delved far into Dickens, with Nicholas Nickelby and Oliver Twist getting a mention. So when we are introduced to James Millar’s brilliant characterization as the odious Miss Trunchbull, she seems to be directly descended from Dickens’ horrible schoolmaster Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickelby.
Matilda is a musical that deals with the topical subject of bullying, but in this case the bullying is not done by Matilda’s peers, but by her awful parents and school headmistress. Young Matilda is an object lesson in bravery and how to triumph over bullies in the long run, which she does. But there are many challenges along the way.
I didn’t find the music memorable on first hearing, but it is upbeat and lots of fun. My only reservation is that the lyrics are delivered very fast, so anyone with a hearing difficulty will have problems, despite the excellent diction efforts of the cast. If you fall into that category, watch the film or read the book to familiarize yourself with the story before you go. And if you are taking children, the same suggestion applies. The children on opening night loved the musical – it has just the right amount of naughtiness and humour to appeal to them. But there are scary moments in the musical, so I think carefully about taking a very young child unless they were very well briefed on what was about to happen.
One of the great things about this hit musical is that it captures everyone from eight to 80 and beyond because it is a great story and the music, choreography and effects are designed to grab us and sweep us along. Casting is brilliant, with the opening night Matilda, Ingrid Torelli, giving an extraordinary and mature performance – I’m sure the three other young Matildas will do the same. James Millar as Miss Trunchbull almost walks away with the show, such is the intensity of his performance and his comic ability. (Side note – the last time I saw Millar perform it was as Noel Coward, so this man can do anything!) Marika Aubrey as Mrs Wormwood and Daniel Frederiksen as Mr Wormwood display great talent as they inhabit their broad comic roles. Elise McCann as the wholly good and sweet Miss Honey, with a sad background of her own, is totally believable, with one of the loveliest voices in music theatre. In the tiny role of the doctor early in the musical, Reece Budin impressed me, and my heart was stolen by the beautiful performance of Cle Morgan (pictured) as the funny and sympathetic librarian, Mrs Phelps, who gives Matilda the warm relationship she misses at home.
Stephen Amos leads a tight small orchestra and direction by Tanya Goldberg and Peter Rutherford, with choreography by Brendan Yeates, is assured and effective.
The ensemble of children is delightful and natural, and the whole cast is lively and polished and delivers an excellent performance of Dennis Kelly’s book and Tim Minchin’s clever music.