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Matilda the Musical Jr.

by on 20 December 2021

West End Re-Packaged

Matilda the Musical Jr.

by Denis Kelly, based on the story by Roald Dahl, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin

Dramacube, Twickenham Green Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 18th December

Review by David Stephens

Having seen the RSC’s spectacular production of Matilda the Musical twice now (once was not enough for my, ahem, children), it was with great excitement that I attended Dramacube’s version at Hampton Hill Theatre on Saturday evening.  Upon arrival, I was informed that tonight’s show would be performed by the Twickenham ‘Green’ cast and that the main roles of Matilda, Bruce, Mrs Wormwood, Miss Honey and Ms Trunchball, would all be played by the ‘B’ stream.  Flicking through the programme, one immediately realised the magnitude of Dramacube’s undertaking, with no fewer than five different casts set to perform the production over a four day period and with many of the main roles being interchanged between different performers on a nightly basis. 

In Matilda, Roald Dahl tells the story of a charming and highly intelligent little girl who is entirely different from the rest of her family.  Seen by them as little more than an inconvenient pest, she escapes her otherwise miserable existence by reading books and honing her newly discovered and secret telekinetic powers.  Fed up by Matilda’s interference in his ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes and for retribution for the many practical jokes that she plays on him, Matilda’s father packs her off to a school run by the terrifying and child-loathing head-teacher, Ms Trunchball.  It is here that Matilda discovers that the other children are terribly mistreated and often sent to the ‘chokey’, a cramped, nail-lined cupboard, where they are forced to stand for hours as punishment for the slightest misdemeanours.

However, despite the misery heaped upon them, the children are fortunate to find themselves under the guardianship of their caring teacher, Miss Honey, who sees something quite wonderful in Matilda that requires further nurturing.  Through her telekinesis and story-telling, Matilda soon becomes aware of Miss Honey’s own tragic childhood at the hands of Trunchball and seeks retribution for the evil that their hated headteacher has inflicted on them all. 

The RSC’s production has received great acclaim and is now performed on stages across the world.  Lauded for its complex staging and high-energy performances, it is an enormous challenge for any group.  Dramacube’s decision to take on this incredibly ambitious production must, therefore, be applauded.  It was difficult to visualise how the professional staging could be successfully replicated on the much smaller stage at Hampton Hill Theatre and with a cast of young and inexperienced actors.  However, one needn’t have worried!  As the music began and the curtain went up, the audience were immediately dazzled with a perfectly created set, complete with cleverly created piles of books, used as doorways and seating areas, and large alphabet blocks used as desks and podiums.  With the rapturous applause that greeted the end of the well-choreographed opening number, it was clear that we were in for a real treat.

Tonight’s production saw the lead role of Matilda played beautifully by the very talented Tabitha Gooding, who gave a captivating performance from start to finish.  Showing the perfect blend of innocence, grit and steely-resolve, her performance was every bit as skilled and polished as any of the ‘professional’ Matilda’s I’ve seen previously.  Also bringing an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm to the production was Lili Ram, in her role of Bruce Bogrotter, the poor, food-loving child who is forced by Trunchball to eat a giant chocolate cake as punishment for stealing a small piece from the school kitchen … a punishment which he succeeds in completing (with the help of great acting and clever staging), much to the delight of his school chums and the enthusiastic audience.  The success of tonight’s production, however, cannot be solely attributed to one or two stand-out performances but to the strength of the ensemble cast, all of whom were exceptional in their energetic and enthusiastic delivery of lines, songs and choreography.  This, combined with incredible set design and production, made for a hugely enjoyable evening and the perfect start to the Christmas season.  Congratulations to all involved.

David Stephens, December 2021

Photography by Bomi Cooper

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