Roald Dahl’s stories and their wild and quirky caricatures are an entrenched part of many a childhood. Despite an alleged aversion to children, the son of a Norwegian shipbroker created places and characters that continue to allure adults and little people alike.
Most of us will have watched, rewatched and loved the film version of Matilda directed by and starring Danny DeVito as Matilda’s father, the garishly garbed crook of a car salesman. Mr Wormwood is played with all the smarm he deserves by Steve Furst – who you will definitely have seen in the Orange Wednesday ads at the cinema – who gives the part a Cockney makeover with Grease Lightnin’ hair. Peter Howe as the Wormwood’s sloth of a son Michael is a tiny but hilarious highlight and all the required contrast to his genius sister.
The principal role of Matilda is played on rotation by several young actresses (there are legal limits to how many hours children can work per week) and Cleo Demetriou reminded me very much of a ten year old Emma Watson as she embarked on her decade of Harry Potter: cute, swotty and ever-so-slightly unpolished… but it works! Ellie Simons was precocious and funny and owned the stage in her moments as Lavender. Indeed, the children by far outshone their adult counterparts in their dancing and energy.
The production’s crown jewel is Bertie Carvel as the despot Miss Trunchbull, still wallowing in the success of her Hammer Throwing during the 1969 Olympics. While Pam Ferris imbued the terrifying head teacher with a strapping masculinity in the film, Carvel plays the Trunchbull as camp, high-voiced and twitchy – a performance in a similar vein as (and which may even surpass) Tim Curry’s rendering of Dr Frankenfurter in the Rocky Horror Show of 1978.
Kohl-eyed comedian Tim Minchin has written the music and lyrics for Dennis Kelly’s script and they have given this classic a reworking that is fresh with just the right smattering of smut and cynicism, but still keep it kosher. True, it wasn’t always possible to hear all the lyrics and the melodies will not make it to Number One in the Musical Theatre hit parade, but this must be the edgiest kid’s musical to ever land on stage.