What to say about a production that does not put a foot wrong? It is everything great musicals are.
It’s very adult and it’s very childish.
It’s very funny and it also had me sobbing like a fool. The book by
Dennis Kelly captures just how strange and jagged and horrible Roald
Dahl’s world was. Anyone who might have thought Kelly was an odd choice
for librettist forgets Debris and Monkey Dust
and of course his endless dark humour. Tim Minchin’s songs have a
mixture of musical theatre and pop sensibility and completely come off;
there are moments of Sondheim cleverness (the alphabet song), and then
there are just adorable folk-pop songs like ‘When I Grow Up’ (it reminds
me of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Our House) but which punch a hole of
beautiful innocence, longing and comedy that is the special province of
the musical. Matthew Warchus’s production knows exactly when to take
things seriously and when to go for the gag. ‘When I Grow Up’ is staged
breathtakingly on swings; and I mean breathtaking - the production takes
a moment for a long breath and dream, which reminds us what is being
aimed for, prepares us for the return of love, and the end of brutality.
I’ve written elsewhere (oh and here too) about my love for the
unintegrated musical, and there are some wonderful divertissements,
including the entr’acte ‘Telly’, in which Mr Wormwood sings a music-hall
hymn of praise to the box in the corner. I think it’s the best score
for a British musical since, what? Oliver!?
The cast is faultless. I really don’t
want to single anyone out, but it would be crazy not to mention that
Kerry Ingram, the Matilda when I saw it, has confidence and stage
charisma that knocked me over. Without seeming to be at all stage school
brattish. Bertie Carvel - okay, I am singling people out - does a
superb turn as Miss Trunchbull, ugly, savage, witty, physical. He should
get all awards going. Lauren Ward as Miss Honey was perfect and
delightful. The Wormwoods were magnificently carried off by Paul Kaye
and Josie Walker.
And let me just tell you about the last five seconds, because it made me catch my breath with emotion and delight. Miss Honey has won the Wormwoods’ agreement to adopt Matilda. The birth-parents depart leaving the new mother and daughter alone, burnished by a sunny backlight. They turn to walk off together. And in the fading light, as they walk upstage and off, they both do a single, slow, simultaneous cartwheel. And the lights fade. It’s the most beautiful expression of togetherness, love, contentedness and joy I can remember experiencing in a theatre and it brought me choking to my feet for a standing ovation, along, I might say, with the entire rest of the audience.