29 August 2015

Matilda the Musical

Dress - Topshop       Bag - Urban Outfitters (similar)        Shoes - New Look (similar)

I convinced myself that this building was 12 Grimmauld Place
Before the Theatre mum and I went for a lovely meal at The Covent Garden Hotel's Brasserie Blanc. They offered one of my favourite dishes - Tuna Nicoise - and the fact they asked you how you like your tuna steak cooked was a new one for me! Medium rare isn't just for beef. Yet possibly the highlight was the mini ketchup bottle they brought out (because I ask for ketchup with everything except roast dinners).

When it comes to theatre I am a snob - no two ways about it! I refuse to go to Pantomimes, while 'happy-clappy' style shows don't interest me at all. I would go to Mama Mia under sufferance, let's but it that way (the film is an exception - anything with Meryl Streep is an exception!

The first musical I ever saw on The West End was Phantom of the Opera when I was tiny. I didn't think anything could top it. However, when I saw Les Mis around the age of 12 it blew me away; I now truly believed nothing could ever surpass this. Billy Elliot on Broadway (bonus comedy points in the 'Yankie-Geordie' accent) and Wicked at The Bristol Hippodrome both came close…

Then along came Matildaand I wasn't blown away…

I was spellbound. There is a difference: with Phantom and Les Mis, I was captivated watching the stories unfold. With Matilda, I was in the story. I don't know quite how else to describe it, but from the very start you are invested in the story. The stage - which had no curtains, so the entire set was visible from the start, definitely helped this.

Then you're off, and you're whisked away into the pages of one of Britain's most beloved books (if you don't agree we can't be friends), yet now given whole new chapters you've never seen before. One of my favourite twists with the stage production, was the focus on storytelling.

Above all else, Dahl is a storyteller, and this is an element of Matilda the producers brought out so vividly. The government should send kids to this show on mass!  Storytelling is so important when you're young; incidentally it's one of the topics I am considering for my dissertation, and am veering more towards after seeing this musical! So many people will disregard or scorn this view, but in my eyes thee are few things are more powerful or nurturing than a book. When it comes to Dahl's story, imagination is the strongest light. This musical sees the light burst into a firework of laughter, tears, suspense, shock, then more tears, laughter that comes uncontrollably at the most unexpected of times.

Craig Els' turn as the Trunchbull is comedy gold, as is as Bruce Bogtrotter. The ending had mum and I in stitches, partly from disbelief that we were truly watching this. I felt comforted that people still exist with an imagination  as random and whacky as can be - in the best way possible!

The one thing you do have to put aside, from the beginning, is any association with the film version. Rereading Matilda again this summer, I realised just how different the two are; the West End version is, in many ways, closer to the original. I was slightly disappointed they didn't show more of Matilda's tricks, such as the talking parrot in the fireplace, especially when they have a song titled "Naughty"!

Nonetheless, the storytelling twist with librarian Ms Phelps was a real highlight of the production, and truly captured Matilda's love of books in an innovative way. I was shocked to learn that the Matilda we saw - Violet Tucker - was making her debut performance in this show! She was a convincing lead throughout; her projection in the storytelling parts was remarkable for her age, and you warmed to her from the be inning.

I also liked how different she was in appearance from Mara Wilson. When my mum commented that "she was incredible, but not as I expected", I responded that she actually resembled the Quentin Blake illustration quite a bit - and Blake made the original Matilda! 

Most of all, I loved how the children still sounded like children. Sometimes on the West End, kids can be made to sound like adults; this wasn't the case at all here. As I mentioned earlier, it all contributed to this more intimate setting; as an audience member you felt truly invested in the production. There was nothing commercial about it; even the decor outside the main theatre had a homely feel to it, with quotes in vintage frames and the cast names written up on a chalkboard!

If there's one slight criticism I had, it was that at times comedy compromised the emotional execution, such as Matilda's story; the end didn't tug on my heartstrings quite the same way as the film. While The Trunchbull brought humour, I felt a far stronger sense of hatred towards her than Mr Wormwood; he was almost too caricatured. When Miss Honey sings "this is my house", the waterworks started!

Nonetheless, there were still tears; during Matilda's performance "quiet" you could have heard a pin drop. There is a line towards the end that still gives me goosebumps.

This project couldn't have been in safer hands than the RSC, given that Shakespeare is one of  Britain's greatest storytellers. My next hope is that the BFG might come onto stage - the film already had a hit song (in my eyes), but it's another story that would thrive in The West End.

The fact it was created by the Royal Shakespeare Company - with Tim Minchin behind the score - says it all really. So do the awards! This is a musical I would go and see again tomorrow. The soundtrack is nearing triple figure plays, since being downloaded 2 weeks ago. 

I am quite certain I will keep playing it when I grow up too. But for now I'll happily stay little. It turns out you can do a lot.


What are your favourite musicals? 

Did you read Matilda as a child?

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