kids on swing

Flying high with Matilda at Birmingham Hippodrome. Pictures: Manuel Harlan


Birmingham Hippodrome


Matilda is just jaw-droppingly good. It is as simple as that. A theatrical treat full of fun and wit, with some deliciously OTT dark moments, sailing merrily along on a sea of remarkable young talent.

Roald Dahl’s 1988 book is brought to glorious life to delight adults and children alike as we follow the tale of Matilda, the precocious five-year-old and her dysfunctional – which is putting it mildly – family, along with a headmistress who manages to give evil a bad name.

There is Matilda’s father Mr Wormwood, played wide boy style by Sebastien Torkia. He is a used car, or rather, well-used banger salesman with an IQ approaching double figures and a penchant for green suits – which matches his hair . . . but that is another story. He is on the verge of the dodgiest of deals flogging clapped out rustbuckets as low mileage luxury cars to a Russian. What could go wrong there?

And then there is her mother, played by Rebecca Thornhill, with hair almost as tall as she is, who is obsessed with Salsa and Latin American dancing with her partner Rudolpho, (Matt Gillett) all legs, libido and leather. He does have a particularly impressive moment though when he performs a sliding splits along the stage between Mrs Wormwood’s legs! It was a tough decision whether to applaud or wince at that one.

Matilda’s parents are appalled that their daughter, or substitute son in her dad’s case, is doing anything so strange and unnatural as reading and showing dangerous and damaging signs of intelligence.

Something which could not be said of Matilda’s brother Michael, played, or rather slouched, by Matthew Caputo. Michael has an IQ approaching single figures and a vocabulary which seems to consist solely of his name and the word telly.

The quartet are a monument to stupid and are wonderfully funny with brilliant timing and delightful daftness.


Lara Cohen as the eponymous Matilda

School brings a new challenge in the rather strange shape of Miss Agatha Trunchbull, ex-Olympic hammer thrower and now the child-hating headmistress of the discipline and torture factory she calls a school – the infamous Crunchem Hall school for maggots.

It is a magnificent performance from Craige Els. He/she is deliciously evil, with a nice line of punishments, such as swinging one small girl around by her pig tails, hammer throwing style, and hurling her high into the air.

Or forcing small boy Bruce Bogtrotter, a lovely performance by Dylan Hughes, to eat a huge chocolate cake, after he stole a small slice from the kitchen, both very clever and effective illusions from Paul Kieve.

Trying to help Matilda we have Miss Honey, played by Carly Thoms, a kindly teacher who has her own sad backstory of betrayal and abandonment. Thoms has a quite beautiful voice, incidentally, her My House a musical highlight; it’s the sort of voice just made for leading roles in musical theatre.

Then there is Matilda, played on Press night by Lara Cohen, who blows you away. So much talent in one so young; she might be a tiny dot on the stage but my how she fills it.

Her self-appointed best friend is Lavender, played by Madeline Gilby, who takes a beautifully timed age leaving the stage trying not tell us that she is going to put a newt in Miss Trunchbull’s water.

They are just two of an amazing bunch of kids skipping through routines that would tax seasoned dancers and filling the stage with infectious enthusiasm – they really are a delight to watch.

honey and trunch

Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and Craige Els as Miss Trunchbull.

Dennis Kelly’s clever book has brought the tale to life while the superb songs from Tim Minchin are not only witty, with some wonderful lines, but add to and develop the story. These are not just numbers chucked in to justify saying it is a musical, they are an integral part of the storyline,

Rob Howell’s setting with it’s teetering walls of books is a masterpiece of flexibility, gliding in and out with scene flowing into scene whether in the library, with kindly librarian Mrs Phelps, (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) or by the dark, imposing gates of the school from hell – all enhanced by Hugh Vanstone’s intelligent lighting.

Down in the pit the excellent 11 strong orchestra, under musical director Andrew Corcoran show the benefit of numbers, not always the case with touring shows, with a full, rich sound which did justice to the music.

I first reviewed Matilda way back in 2010 when it was the RSC’s Christmas show at Stratford-upon-Avon and it was obvious to anyone then that this was a production far too good to be to be popped away in a drawer and brought out again in a few Christmases time. This was theatrical gold, and so it has proved, running still in the West End, winning more than 85 major awards worldwide, 15 for best musical, and playing to around eight million people in 60 cities around the globe – it opens in Asia later this year.

The RSC Christmas show has become a global phenomenon and one of the best and most successful musicals of the 21st century. Incidentally, fans of Game of Thrones will have seen Kerry Ingram, still only 19, who played Matilda that Christmas eight years ago, as Shireen Baratheon for three seasons.

As we said at the start, Matilda is jaw-droppingly good. And that is really all you need to know. So, no more from me, just go and see it. Directed by Matthew Warchus it will be extolling the virtues of stupidity and not reading at Birmingham Hippodrome until 08-09-18.

Roger Clarke


Index page Hippodrome Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre