You may know that I’ve recently done a couple of weeks’ work experience in London (more on that distressingly overpopulated metropolis later, probably). Despite my obscenely full timetable, I squeezed in a trip to Matilda the Musical, which I so heartily enjoyed that I felt the need to share my enthusiasm with the internet. Here’s why it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage…
1) It will make you feel all of the things a musical should make you feel
Some people look down on musicals. Those people are joyless snobs, and they’re missing one of the greatest highs available within the limits of the law. A good West End musical can make you laugh, cry and boggle at the sheer razzle-dazzle that no other art form quite possesses. It takes a great deal of raw skill to simultaneously offer the best in music, dance, acting and design, and that combination can sometimes backfire in expensive flops.
Luckily, Matilda is not one of those; along with most of the audience, I was grinning uncontrollably from the first few seconds of the opening number. The emotional pacing is impeccable throughout, with just enough quiet moments to make the big showstoppers even more exhilarating. I particularly liked the set, which is full of surprises (I won’t tell you what they are, for obvious reasons) and which contributes to some moments of purest showmanship.
2) Tim Minchin’s music is PERFECT
That’s a big claim, and one that is of course totally subjective – I’m sure someone less enamoured with the musical and the man could pick great big pedantic holes in it. But honestly, Minchin’s lyrical virtuosity is an absolute joy from start to finish, walking the line between ‘ingenious’ and ‘tortured’ with aplomb (especially in the School Song).
The melodic side works superbly too; the songs fit together like dancers, revolving around each other but always maintaining their independence. And while plenty of musicals can be accused of fleshing out a few fantastic tunes with a lot of repeats (*cough* Les Misérables *cough*), Matilda achieves a pretty spot-on balance between coherence and variety.
3) It’s for all ages
Often, when promoters describe something as ‘for all ages’, they mean it’s a kid’s book/film/musical with a few weak gags thrown in for the parents. Admittedly, there are moments in Matilda (like Bruce Bogtrotter’s monumental burp) which are probably a concession to the fact that much of the audience is still at primary school. But although some of the humour is juvenile, the playground jokes are delivered with such self-aware abandon – and perfect comic timing – that even those of us who are technically ‘adults’ can’t help but laugh.
What’s more, Matilda has that rare quality possessed by the few genuine all-ages stories: it’s accessible without compromising on substance. The musical, even more than Dahl’s original book, works on multiple levels. My favourite example of this is When I Grow Up, a quietly heartbreaking tune that seamlessly wraps up the disillusionment of adulthood in the wonder of childhood.
4) It demonstrates that, despite ITV’s attempts to prove the contrary, Britain has still got some talent left
You will leave the theatre feeling like you have done nothing with your life. And you will be right. The child actors are incredible. You and I will probably never achieve in our whole lives what they had done by the age of ten. However, the musical is all about growing up, and somehow the poignancy of the whole thing is sharpened by the knowledge that these crazy-talented little
bastards angels will be going through the horrors of puberty and leaving their Matilda days behind in the blink of an eye.
5) It knows that nothing is easy
Speaking of the distressing fact that time is flying unstoppably by and death comes to us all in the end… for all its hilarity and ridiculousness, this musical is deeply serious in many ways. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know ***SPOILER ALERT*** that Matilda is the tale of a little girl whose parents loathe her, who becomes so lonely and enraged that she spontaneously develops telekinesis, and who discovers that her psychotic primary school headmistress is an actual murderer. And then there’s the parallel story of the endearingly pathetic Miss Honey, which is just as moving, but less exuberant. ***SPOILER OVER IT’S OK YOU CAN READ AGAIN***
Some might expect a musical that addresses bullying, abandonment, etc. to be a touch depressing, but Matilda spits its audience out in a state of elation. All that darkness does a lovely job of bringing the bright spots into relief, and making the overall picture a more convincing one than it would otherwise be.
6) It only costs a fiver
…if you’re determined. There’s a limited number of tickets kept on the door each morning, which you can get from the box office of the Cambridge Theatre from 10am. The only downside is that, to be in with a shot of getting one, it’s wise to arrive at 8am and wait until opening time. But trust me, if (like me) you probably shouldn’t be spending half a day’s wages on an advance ticket, this is a really good deal. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading my blog* and go to Matilda.
If you thought that was long for a review, bear in mind that the original draft was 2000 words. I’m really, REALLY enthusiastic about this musical, so much so that I’ve forked out to see it twice. Apologies for the lack of pictures, normal service will be resumed shortly.
*but don’t stop altogether please because that would make me sad.