The Magic of Matilda the Musical

Chris Hurley takes her family to see this smash hit musical in London and get a double dose of entertainment

My daughters may be grown-up thirty some-things but they still fondly remember the days when we used to read their favourite book, Matilda, together.

They loved the film which I took them to see many years ago, but we wondered how well the musical of Roald Dahl’s original book would work. Their verdict of the stage adaptation, written by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics composed by Tim Minchin, was ‘It’s brilliant’. Hardly surprising as it’s had rave reviews, won a clutch of awards and is currently in production across the globe.

The theme for the performance, both physically and emotionally, is set from the very start. The physical is the raw energy of all the actors, children and adults alike, and the emotion from the unloved Matilda’s pitiful situation.

The show is fully of witty one-liners and pointed observation and, having once been a very sharp-elbowed parent myself, I had to chuckle at the opening scene where pushy parents gaze adoringly at their little moppets who are innocently singing ‘my mummy says I’m a miracle’, ‘My daddy says I’m a special little guy.’

Sadly for Matilda, her parents, the Wormwoods, do not share the sentiment and speak to her in cruel terms that are utterly shocking yet an intrinsic part of Dahl’s story. Even when it transpires that Matilda has an IQ pushy parents would kill for, hers are horrified, declaring her weird and suggesting ditches her beloved books and watches more ‘telly’.

When school beckons, instead of providing Matilda with some respite, things take an even bigger turn for the worse. At Crunchem Hall, where the motto is Bambinatum est Magitum, or Children are Maggots, headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull, continues to make Matlida’s life a misery.

The core of the production is Matilda’s love of books and, on stage, this is depicted by the story-telling which runs like a thread through the musical’s own storyline Along with Matilda’s gift of genius she has a powerful imagination and the stories she creates, like her own, feature characters that are either wholesomely good or hideously evil.

The evil ones provide some rich humour. Not least, Matilda’s father, the loud, check suited dodgy second-hand car-dealer and her glamorous mother, with aspirations to become a Latin American ballroom champion who flirts unashamedly with her snake-hipped dance partner.

We had wondered how the grossness of the Trunchbull could be translated to the stage but when the bullying tyrant made her début we were not disappointed. Casting a strapping male, in the role, created a monster that was terrifying and intimidating yet hilarious.

One of the funniest sequences in the show was when the Trunchbull, an ex-Olympic hammer-throwing champion, attempted to suppress insurrection with a gruelling physical education class. Seeing the six foot plus, huge-bosomed headmistress bouncing on a trampoline, somersaulting over a horse and landing on a fall mat was pure joy, only surpassed when she swung a child around by her pigtails apparently sending her flying over the heads of the audience into outer space.

As for the good adults, the wretched Matilda is thrown a couple of crumbs of comfort in the form of kindly Mrs Phelps, the local Librarian and the timid Miss Honey, her class teacher. Unlike the Wormwoods and the Trunchbull these two have empathy and imagination in spades.

As the story unfolds, we get the benefit of two very different, but complementary styles of entertainment. There’s the youthful exuberance of the children, whose devilment prompts the song ”The Smell of Rebellion” from the Trunchbull and some fine character acting by the adults, particularly from the spivish, Mr. Wormwood. Some scenes are a combination of both, such as when Matilda’s magic powers send a newt in the Trunchbull’s direction triggering mayhem that is pure pantomime.

In case you haven’t read Matilda, I won’t spoil the plot but suffice it to say, like all good stories, this one has a happy ending.

We all enjoyed an excellent evening out. The clever set design enhanced the atmosphere, the songs catch the mood and the acting is strong from both the children and the adults. It’s a show that will be enjoyed by both grown-ups as well as older children.

Matilda, The Musical is running at London’s Cambridge Theatre. For more information and to book tickets go to