Scene It: Matilda, an Explosion of Musical Magic

December 22, 2018

The 1988 Roald Dahl classic, Matilda, jumps off the pages and onto the stage thanks to the clever book adaptation by Dennis Kelly, and the fantastic music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s smash-hit musical was first performed in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010. Thereafter, it became a West End musical sensation in 2011, took Broadway by storm in 2013, and is currently enchanting audiences in Cape Town courtesy of GWB Entertainment in association with Pieter Toerien Productions.

 

The musical staging highlights the imagination of Dahl and gives impressive expression to the colourful characters of his Matilda. The story of Matilda does something quite unique in that it uses an off-beat fairy-tale to show children and adults that life isn’t always a fairy-tale. Matilda enchants you with the story of an opinionated girl who isn’t liked by her parents, is adored by her teacher and librarian, is despised by her headmistress, and celebrated by her friends… oh, and who has the exceptional ability to make things happen with her mind.

 

While Kelly’s book takes all the elements that make Dahl's Matilda magical and gives it a stage-presence, acclaimed comedian Minchin’s music and lyrics does what any great musical demands, it furthers the narrative. The dark humour of Dahl's frightfully funny tale is brilliantly enhanced by Minchin who skillfully uses the age-old trick of joking about the horrible side of life so that we can deal with it through great, nuanced-wit induced laughter.

Add to that the SPECTACULAR, technicolour set and costume design by Rob Howell —his set design gives the impression that Matilda’s tale jumped right off the pages of a vividly illustrated children’s storybook and onto the stage— and the amazing illusions combined with the clever choreography by Peter Darling, and you’re undoubtedly in for an enchanting musical treat.

 

The impressive eight piece band, conducted by musical director Louis Zurnamer, adds as much energy and vibrance from the orchestra pit as the performances by the cast do. At times you may find yourself completely immersed and overwhelmed by the orchestral show they put on that it momentarily may even take your attention away from the stage. 

 

With a strong ensemble, including Weslee Swain Louder as the Party Entertainer, Kenneth Meyer as The Escapologist, Jasmin Colangela as The Acrobat, and a group of extremely talented youngsters —of which Cameron Sear as Bruce and Taylor Salgado as Lavender deserve special mention— this production of Matilda is a sleek and sensational hit.

On the night I saw Matilda, the role of this little miracle was played by Kitty Harris. She may be the tiniest person on the stage, but Harris is pure spunk personified as the opinionated little dreamer, Matilda. She showcases talent and control in performance beyond her years. I'm sure the other two Matildas —Lilla Fleischmann and Morgan Santo— will similarly charm audiences with their Matilda performances.

 

Claire Taylor as Matilda’s materialistic mother, Mrs Wormwood, is not only vivacious in character, but also in performance. Her vivacity is perfectly matched by Stephen Jubber, who turns the book-hating, con-artist Mr Wormwood into a dubious delight to watch.

 

Bethany Dickson as Miss Honey sings hope into harmony with her exquisite voice, and Nompumelelo Mayiyane’s performance as the librarian, Mrs Phelps, gives expression to the heart of every audience member desperately wanting Matilda’s tale to have a happy ending.

The monstrous magnificence of Ryan de Villiers as Principal Trunchbull is all the reason you need to run to the theatre to see this staging of Matilda. As the youngest performer to step into the huge and intimidating shoes of The Trunch, De Villiers deserves every standing ovation he gets and more. His performance is a tour de force.

 

Matilda fills the Artscape Opera House with musical magic and it will surely result in many a smiling audience member going home with an earworm or five. Personally, I had ‘School Song’, ‘When I Grow Up’ and ‘Revolting Children’ happily stuck in my head for days after seeing the show. 

 

Matilda is the must see musical of the festive season, so best book your tickets soonest through Computicket to see it before the run ends 13 January 2019.

 

As an additional note (that has nothing to do with the quality of the production, but everything to do with the overall theatre experience of the venue), a kind request to the Artscape’s management: At the performance I attended, the ushers allowed what looked like a group of 30 people in late and all at the same time, and doing so mid the first solo number ‘Naughty’ that Harris did as Matilda —a crucial moment in the narrative— which was utterly disrespectful to the cast and other paying patrons. If you are going to allow latecomers in, kindly please ask your ushers to choose a scene change moment that will have the minimum disruptive impact on everyone else.

 

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