Monday 25 June 2018

Matilda at Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin review: 'The feel-good factor was mighty, and all without a Disney princess in sight'

Mrs Wormwood (Rebecca Thornhill)
Mr Wormwood (Sebastian Torkia)
Miss Trunchbull (Craige Els)
Miss Honey (Carly Thomas), Miss Trunchbull (Miss Honey)

Fiona Ness

The Tony and Olivier award-winning adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin comes to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin

Whatever about having parents who hate you, and a hammer-swinging headmistress who wants to put you in ‘chokey’, receiving a standing ovation from 2,000 people on opening night has got to have a massive impact on a young person’s life.

Striding out on stage for her encore, serious little Matilda (Nicola Turner, one of three children rotated into the role) absorbed it all. For over two hours at Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre she had played a blinder as Roald Dahl’s eponymous miracle child. Now she allowed herself a smile of appreciation, or relief.

Unusually for a theatre production, the audience had begun applauding before the first actors stepped out on stage. A mishmash of building block alphabet letters framed the chorus of performers as they broke into their first musical number of the evening, Miracle, which cast a sardonic eye over the sometimes misguided love parents bestow on their children.

“My mummy says I’m a miracle,” sang the children as their doting parents looked on. Meanwhile, the real miracle child - Dostoevsky-reading Matilda Wormwood who can move objects with her mind - languished unloved by her cruel and ignorant pastiche parents.

“I’ve already got a baby I don’t want; I don’t want another one – isn’t there something you can do?” lamented a heavily pregnant Mrs Wormwood to her obstetrician. A burst of laughter from the audience seemed out of step in an Ireland warring over Repeal the 8th.

Miss Honey (Carly Thomas), Miss Trunchbull (Miss Honey)
Miss Honey (Carly Thomas), Miss Trunchbull (Miss Honey)

There was ne’er a misstep nor a moment wasted in this production, which maintained momentum through a series of slick musical numbers that developed the plot with pace. Despite their impeccable diction, I struggled occasionally to make out some of the lyrics in the children’s (sorry, the toad’s) musical numbers, but it was a minor issue that did not detract from the evening.

It was out of the frying pan and into the fire for Matilda, as she was shunted from an unhappy home into a school terrorised by the demonically dangerous Miss Trunchbull (Craige Els).

Miss Trunchbull (Craige Els)
Miss Trunchbull (Craige Els)

Els’ Trunchbull is a pantomime dame gone rogue; an Olympic hammer thrower who locks children up, swings them into the stratosphere by the pigtails (how DID she do that?) and takes them through a gym routine that is Gubu in the extreme.

Her archetypal awfulness, although not as dark as in the novel, was pitched perfectly for the children in the audience, who enjoyed the fact that even the smallest of children can stand up to the biggest bully.

Mr Wormwood (Sebastian Torkia)
Mr Wormwood (Sebastian Torkia)

An allegorical sequence running through the production placed Matilda in the library, telling the librarian (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) the story of a great escapologist (Steffan Lloyd-Evans) and his acrobat wife (Emily Bull). The synchronicity of the actors’ narratives enhanced the story with devastating effect.

There was light at the end of the tunnel for Matilda in the form of her teacher, Miss Honey (Carly Thoms) who, with a little help from a Russian mafia boss (stand-out vocals from Adam Vaughan), put an end to Matilda’s misery. The feel-good factor was mighty, and all without a Disney princess in sight.

Bookings: bordgaisenergytheatre.ie / 01- 677 7999

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