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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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Matilda the Musical — Matthew Warchus

When I was in London in 2015, I was fortunate enough to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and my mind was blown, seeing things that I didn’t think were possible to do on stage. Matilda the Musical brings the same kind of highly professional theatre to New Zealand and it is absolutely amazing.

Matilda the Musical is based on Matilda by Roald Dahl and follows it closely, with a few new details. For example, Mrs Wormwood (Kay Murphy) is addicted to ballroom dancing with her “secret weapon” Italian dancer Rudolpho (Travis Khan), rather than bingo, making her addiction to money and high-class life more believable. Meanwhile Matilda’s brother Michael (Daniel Raso) only speaks by yelling words his father has said, e.g. “BACKWARDS!” (While this detail did highlight and exacerbate the frustration Matilda (Annabella Cowley) felt within her family, I am uneasy that it may perpetuate stereotypes of disability, with the character being used for comedic relief in a musical aimed at children). Finally, the show creates a closer relationship between Matilda and the librarian, Mrs Phelps (Cle Morgan). Throughout the show Matilda tells Mrs Phelps parts of a story she’s made up about an escapologist and an acrobat, which is later revealed to be the real story of Miss Honey’s (Lucy Maunder) parents. Morgan’s characterisation of Mrs Phelps was warmly welcomed; she brought an amplified energy that was contagious to the audience.

The show takes the magic and grittiness of Dahl’s work and makes it more accessible for audience members to dive into the world of Matilda. Miss Trunchbull (James Millar), who comes across as downright terrifying in the book, still holds that terror as a literally large bully, but also delicately balances comedy, allowing children to laugh at her, especially when Bruce Bogtrotter (Ewan Herdman) completes her challenge of eating an entire chocolate cake.

A huge theme of Matilda is children’s craving of stories and knowledge being stopped by learning-hating adults such as Mr and Mrs Wormwood, and Miss Trunchbull. When the intermission was coming to a close, Mr Wormwood (Daniel Frederiksen) comes on stage and declares that what children have seen today should not be tried at home: reading! He promotes television, telling us everything he’s learnt he’s “learnt from tele”, of course in a song, seamlessly slipping into the second half of the show. Yet it’s obvious that learning and reading will win the day, as adults such as Miss Honey and Mrs Phelps nurture Matilda’s curiosity. The set is literally covered in letters that make up hidden words from the show; it was an absolute delight to find our seats and go on a crossword hunt.

Matilda stands for fairness, learning, and reading, accompanied by some stellar songs and gorgeous characters. You’ll regret missing this show.

P.S. All the actors names I have used are from the night on which I saw the show — Friday, September 2. The child actors rotate when they perform, therefore there may be different actors when you go to see the show.

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