Review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre, Covent Garden

Everyone has their favourite Roald Dahl book. Mine is Matilda.

The rebelliousness of the plucky, yet under-appreciated, little girl resonated with my younger self and my affection for her has been resurrected decades later thanks to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s terrific production at the Cambridge Theatre.

Tim Minchin, who looks a bit like a Quentin Blake drawing himself, has composed a wonderful score of songs which capture the spirit of the story, especially when performed by the remarkable ensemble of children who are brilliant in every way.

Cleo Demetriou, who played Matilda on this occasion, is adorable without being cutesy, extremely talented and seemingly unperturbed by performing monologues and solos on an otherwise empty West End stage.

Paul Kaye, who in another incarnation was TV’s Dennis Pennis, is fantastically loathesome as Mr Wormwood whose cold heart, in the end, warms a couple of degrees for his daughter and Josie Walker is excellent as Matilda’s self-obsessed mother.

But Bertie Carvel’s star turn as demon headteacher Miss Trunchbull, who has a penchant for flinging little girls into the stratosphere by their pigtails and stretching little boys’ ears out of shape, mixes comedy and terror with rapturous effects.

The set design, made of alphabet building blocks and books, is ingenious and lends itself brilliantly to being clambered on by both children and adults and a beautifully choreographed number on swings gives the grown ups in the audience an insight into what it might be like to be a child again.

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Of course, oppressed Matilda triumphs over the bullies in the end, with the help of her special powers, and unites her classmates in rebellion against the Trunchbull.

As she says, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Victoria Huntley