The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Roald Dahl adored revolting children. The double-edged sword of that phrase has probably helped Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s musical version of Dahl’s 1988 novel become such a global hit over the last eight years. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s UK tour of Matthew Warchus’ original production chimes too with recent real-life classroom uprisings throughout the land. So when a stage full of schoolboys and girls flunk their spelling bee to show solidarity with their classmate about to be tortured by the despotic Miss Trunchbull, it’s a moment worthy of Spartacus.
By this point, child genius Matilda has transcended her background born to the vulgarian Wormwood clan to find salvation in books, from Dickens to Dostoyevsky, as well as carving out her own story as she discovers the power of her imagination. Finding a kindred spirit and protector in her saintly teacher Miss Honey, this little rebel becomes the quiet but subversive catalyst for change, not least through her hitherto undiscovered telekinetic tendencies.
All this is brought to life through a refreshingly down-to-earth mix of Kelly’s words and Minchin’s cabaret-style showtunes, which we hear through the mouths of an astonishingly well-drilled cast led by the nine child performers onstage, who make up one of four teams on a rota. Together with the grown-ups, they leap their way through Peter Darling’s dance routines on Rob Howell’s Scrabble board of a set.
Matilda’s elders are either scary grotesques like Elliot Harper’s Miss Trunchbull, or are candidates for Childline like the Wormwoods, played with cartoon-like relish by Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill. So well do they satirise lowest common denominator ignorance spiv-like couple could have leapt straight from the pages of Viz comic. Only Carly Thoms’ Miss Honey radiates the light of a moral compass.
Carrying the show on Thursday night, however, was Scarlett Cecil as Matilda, who, onstage pretty much throughout, never flagged once in a show of strength and chutzpah that matched her character. As intellect and goodness triumphed over stupidity and greed, Matilda gave us hope that the geek may yet inherit the earth.
The Herald, April 5th 2019