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Matilda The Musical at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Roald Dahl classic here for Summer
Matilda was the last long children's book written by Roald Dahl, but he put a bounty of eccentricities and extraordinary characters into this magical tale.

Matilda the musical, Birmingham hippodrome, review,
A cast full of children in Matilda The Musical


Bringing that to life in a musical format is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) with this tremendously vibrant stage adaptation. It first aired in 2010 to much acclaim down the road in Stratford upon Avon but it captured the hearts of young and old so well that it has now been seen by a staggering eight million people.

So, with 85 international awards under its belt, Matilda The Musical is back in the Midlands at Birmingham Hippodrome as the big show for the summer school holidays. It has a long run until September 8.

Starring many children in the lead roles, it's a show that naturally manages to appeal to very young audiences. It's got zany humour, an imaginative storyline and the antics of Matilda's madcap parents that bring a pantomime element to the show through ballroom dancing and hair dye scenes that make little ones laugh.

Matilda the musical, Birmingham hippodrome, review,
Talented Lara Cohen as Matilda


What also makes it entertaining for adults are the clever, inspired songs by comedian Tim Minchin; memorable tracks like 'Miracle', 'Naughty', the nostalgic words of 'When I Grow Up' and the vigour of 'The Smell of Rebellion'.

The story follows a neglected girl called Matilda, who is a child genius but treated like a bizarre and unwanted creature by her dodgy parents. She is sent to a tough school run by a scary headmistress but finds her own way of standing up for herself with the help of kind teacher Miss Honey.

The RSC took seven years to adapt this well-loved story to the stage and you can see why when you look at the level of detail in this hugely watchable production.

As this is a story that revolves around a girl with a love of books, the set design and songs have been wonderfully crafted around words and make spelling seem fun, particularly in the beautifully choreographed School Song. It involves singers climbing on to a wall of letters associated with the words they are singing. It's very unusual and clever.

Matilda the musical, Birmingham hippodrome, review,
Craige Els is scene-stealing as Trunchbull


The real highlight of this production, however, is Craige Els as evil headteacher Miss Trunchbull. Having a towering male actor play her was a stroke of genius and Els' performance is both chilling but also hilarious. He's been in the role for three years in the West End and he has a natural ease with the character. His physical presence and comic timing made the show for me. Also livening up the stage whenever he's on it is Sebastian Torkia as Matilda's gruff father.

Alongside these adult actors are many exceptional children who sing and act their hearts out on stage. There are four young actresses playing Matilda during the UK tour and I saw Lara Cohen, who gave an excellent performance for her age.

Matilda the musical, Birmingham hippodrome, review,
Sebastian Torkia Is both charming but also hideous as Matilda's dad


The novel, which won the Children's Book Award in 1988, is far from being sunshine and flowers and there are some tough topics relating to death, bullying, feeling unloved and abandonment in this show. Some youngsters may find that hard going.

Visually, it does capture the imagination without having huge special effects. There's a lovely scene involving swings to When I Grow Up and shadows to depict a secondary storyline about an acrobat.

What I would say s that while other RSC adaptations of children's stories, like the wonderful Peter Pan, were equally aimed at adults, this show is very much a children's story. Adults will enjoy it but it is weighted more towards younger audiences with a light-hearted slapstick and pantomime element to it.

Where the RSC has struck gold is that it has created an innovative children's show that is acted out predominantly by children too. It's silly yet thoughtful, fun yet twinged with sadness, but ultimately makes you want to be a bit naughty too.

RATING:

If you are a Roald Dahl fan, Birmingham Hippodrome has an exhibition of the author's international book covers on the walls of three floors of the building, near the toilets. It's worth a peak and includes everything from Russian book covers to British versions featuring drawings by artist Quentin Blake.
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Why? See award winning children's tale Matilda
When: Until September 8
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From £30
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