“Never again will I doubt it when my mummy says I’m a miracle!”
More so than with straight plays, I find musicals tend to benefit from re-views (as opposed to reviews!). There’s just more to take in with book, music and lyrics all demanding the attention, especially if they’re richly detailed, staging and choreography offering much inventive potential and by no means least, a wide range of performances, which altogether offers a lot to soak in on a single viewing. Returning to a show also offers the opportunity to reassess one’s initial reactions to it, and so it was with the RSC’s Matilda, the Musical which has now made its long-awaited transfer from Stratford to the West End.
I saw the show at the beginning of the year, fairly late in the run, so had been unable to avoid the effusive praise coming from all angles and the sense of anticipation that came along with it. So predictably, whilst loving the show, there was a nagging sense of a slight disappointment too, which mainly stemmed from it not matching up with my childhood memories of the book and how I thought the show would go. It was still a strong 4 star show for me though, just not quite the saviour of musicals it was being acclaimed as, and so though I was pleased it gained the transfer it deserved, I felt little need to revisit the show.
But then the soundtrack was released and it sucked me rightback into Matilda’s world. Unshackled from my preconceived notions of how it should be, I was able to reappraise the show, well the musical side of it at least, and it totally won me over. Rather than bemoaning what wasn’t, a genuine fear of Miss Trunchbull, a greater exploration of her magical powers, I was able to see the show for what it was, in Dennis Kelly’s adaptation which introduces a storytelling element which is interwoven into the narrative in several ways. It also allowed me to appreciate the musical and lyrical complexity of Tim Minchin’s songs which are often fiendishly clever and witty and yet can so easily pass you by whilst watching the show.
So a greater familiarity with the material and the knowledge of what was to come meant that I was super-excited to catch the show at the Cambridge Theatre as I was invited to review it. I eagerly anticipate many things, but this was a different kind of excitement, of almost child-like glee, at the chance to see it again and really see it for what it was. And I have to say that I absolutely adored it on second viewing. It has adapted to the new space extremely well, and the darkness that comes from being in a proscenium arch really added an atmospheric quality that was missing from the wide open space of the Courtyard.
But even prepared with advance knowledge, the show still sprung lovely surprises on me. Having focused so much on falling in love with the music, I’d forgotten other aspects of the show and in particular, how strong and involving and entertaining the storytelling element actually is, due in no small part to the warmth of Melanie La Barrie’s kindly librarian and the astonishingly assured acting of the Matildas: in this case it was Kerry Ingram, the sole girl to come down from Stratford with the transfer. And the show also moved me a lot more, moments of emotion, both tiny and huge, hitting home a lot more – has ever so much been said in a wordless hug – and the joyous power of the musical form striking all the right chords from the swinging splendour of 'When I Grow Up' to the intense beauty of 'Quiet' to the raucous anarchy of 'Revolting Children'.
I love this show, and I love the way in which I love it. It wasn’t really love at first sight, but rather a great first date followed up by another and another and as I’ve discovered more about it, I have completely and utterly fallen for its charms so I can confidently say it is the real thing. I only hope it can survive in the tough market out there – it isn’t cheap by any means – as it really does deserve it. And I’d recommend catching it sooner rather than later in order to catch Bertie Carvel’s portrayal of Miss Trunchbull, one of the most iconic seen on the stage in quite some time.