Matilda The Musical passes three-year milestone making magic in London’s West End

Matilda The Musical. Photos by Helen Maybanks
Matilda The Musical. Photo by Helen Maybanks

They say never work with animals or children but how can the few adults cast not be entranced with the incredibly talented youngsters who appear in Matilda The Musical?

The Royal Shakespeare Company production of Roald Dahl’s book celebrates its third anniversary in the West End this month and it’s as magical and enthralling as when it first opened.

A firm favourite with children and parents Matilda is one of the few family shows that is led by a juvenile cast.

MatildaHaley Flaherty (Miss Honey) in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan 13.5-117

That’s a huge responsibility for them, but thrust into the spotlight, the stage school alumni dazzle. It’s no wonder they have collectively won numerous stage awards.

September has seen the company undergo a raft of cast changes and this week they played to invited press and public at the sold-out Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End.

Sussex lass Matilda Shapland, 10, already a veteran of Les Mis, has just made her debut as the eponymous Matilda, a very clever little girl who searches for love and happiness against insurmountable odds.

She faces her biggest challenge by questioning the authority of possibly the most monstrous character in both literature and theatre – her evil head teacher Miss Trunchbull.

Dahl didn’t mess around with namby pamby villains. The Trunch is the stuff of nightmares and the young audiences love to hate her.

Stage and screen actor Craige Els (yes, a man) is another newcomer to the production and is terrifying from the moment he rears out of his office chair – a creature whose vast sagging breasts, hairy facial wart and hunched back chills you to the bone.

It’s a virtuoso performance by Els who lets loose his inner demon as the former champion hammer thrower charged with whipping the horrible little maggots under his/ her command into shape.

Matilda’s only adult friends are class-teacher (and saint) Miss Honey, as sweet as she sounds and beautifully played by Haley Flaherty; and librarian Mrs Phelps (Lisa Davina Phillip) who is as entranced as we are by the little girl’s stories.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan.  13.5-113

Matilda’s classmates are splendid. There are more than 30 children rotating the roles and the producers are always auditioning. They really have found the cream of this country’s rising talent.

Everything about Matilda The Musical is larger than life, just like the remembrances of a tiny girl. Her parents are horrible caricatures of heartless and uncaring parents but they are played to full comic effect by James Clyde as car salesman Wormwood and Kay Murphy as his ballroom dancing wife.

Being an RSC production you expect nothing but excellence. Dennis Kelly has done a superb job adapting Dahl’s classic while Tim Minchin’s songs, while not the “hum-on-the-way-home” sort, are perfect for the production.

Peter Darling’s choreography asks a lot from both the children and adults but the set pieces are thrilling – as is the impressive out-sized set designed by Rob Howell.

Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

My 27-year-old daughter, who accompanied me, spent her youth with her nose in Dahl’s books, and Matilda was a particular favourite.

She couldn’t stop smiling throughout the show, transported back to her childhood by Matilda’s magical powers.

Matilda The Musical has won more than 50 awards including seven Olivier Awards and four Tony Awards and has been seen by more than 1.5million people.

The show is now booking until December 20 2015 so take the family – you won’t be disappointed.

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