REVIEW: Matilda the Musical (UK Tour), Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, June 2
I joined the queue outside the Sunderland Empire along with an even mix of excitable children, mainly young girls, and less-enthralled adults wondering whether this show was going to be for me!
I emerged at the end having been highly and unexpectedly entertained by a dynamic musical full of laughs, magic, fabulous songs, brilliant choreography, dazzling sets, great performances and an impossibly cute bunch of kids.
Matilda the Musical is based on the 1988 children's novel of the same name by Roald Dahl and was adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.
It was taken under the wing of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at Stratford-upon-Avon from November 2010 to January 2011, before receiving its West End premiere on November 24, 2011, at the Cambridge Theatre.
The story is a good one - it follows Matilda Wormwood, a precocious five-year-old bookworm who discovers she has the gift of telekinesis - being able to move objects by the power of the mind, which comes in very handy when locking horns with the evil headmistress, Miss Agatha Trunchbull. She has to overcome bullying from her parents - her dad wanted a boy - and her school, and ultimately helps her teacher Miss Honey to rediscover her life.
It is told on several levels, which is why it appeals to all ages and all tastes. The fun antics of the mischievous children, including some very loud burps, suits the youngsters, while the exploration of meaty issues, like bullying, rejection, suicide and loss, resonate more with the older members of the audience.
The strong characters are almost as colourful as the sets and costumes. And the cast fit perfectly into those roles. In fact, you cannot imagine anyone else playing Miss Trunchbull than Craige Els - his performance was genius - I couldn't decide whether to laugh, boo or applaud loudly, and probably attempted to do all three at the same time!
Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill, as Mr and Mrs Wormwood, Matilda's eccentric, rude parents, were equally hilarious. Their comic timing was spot on and their all-action singing, dancing and acting just fantastic. And Carly Thoms' lovely, soothing voice lent itself to the straight-laced Miss Honey.
But the youngsters undoubtedly stole the show, headed by Annalise Bradbury, one of four who slot into the title role. She was an assured and commanding Matilda. Her self-styled best friend Lavender was played by the smallest and cutest of them all, Isobelle Chalmers. Her water-bottle trick that led to Miss Trunchbull's immortal line 'I've got a newt in my knickers' attracted the biggest cheer of the night.
The rest - Elliott Stiff (Bruce), Dylan Hughes (Tommy), Sheldon Golding (Nigel), Harrison Wilding (Eric), Daisy Sequerra (Hortensia) and Madeline Gilby (Amanda), the team on Thursday night - gelled seamlessly, with great energy and enthusiasm.
Like all shows, there were stand-out moments that will live long in the memory - and topping them was Miss Trunchbull practising her hammer-throwing by grabbing a girl by the ponytails and swinging her round before launching her into the air. The child's dramatic landing, like a sack of potatoes, was equally spectacular - it was a real how-did-they-do-that scene.
I loved the ebullient opening number, Miracle, which set the tone with its dynamic dance routines; the School Song, skipping through the alphabet on a prison-like gate was a delicious masterpiece of timing; Miss Trunchbull somersaulting gracefully (well, as gracefully as anyone could with such an incredibly huge chest) across the stage during the gymnastics sequence; and When I Grow Up performed balletically by the schoolchildren on giant swings.
The orchestra deserves special mention, too, as it created an atmospheric backdrop, fantastically well timed to fit the action.
The mood on the way out was slightly different - the excitement among the hordes of children was easily matched among the adults.
Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland**Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.