Children are maggots.
I’ve always wanted to say that.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes…
Matilda has arrived in Brisbane, and it’s just as revoltingly vile as Roald Dahl could have hoped. Coming to QPAC on an Australian tour that has already taken in Sydney and Melbourne, it’s a breath of fresh air in a theatrescape dominated lately by endless revivals of ancient musicals (legit, if I never see Annie or Cats come back to Brisbane again, it’ll be too soon…but I’ll leave that rant for another day). Brought to the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company, London, Matilda is one of the few blockbusters that truly lives up to its hype. Maybe it even exceeds the hype, given it’s the first show in a long time to bring me to my feet at curtain call.
Ordinarily when I hear RSC, I think of Dame Judi Dench wearing velvet. It’s an odd thing to reconcile the RSC with a production that includes laser beams, psychopathic headmistresses and little girls being thrown by their pigtails, but if any theatre company can revise their own narrative it’s the one that carries the name of the world’s most famous playwright.
A musical version of Matilda could so easily have become another moralistic offering with a sentimental happy ending, but it’s saved from a fate worse than Lloyd-Webber by Dennis Kelly’s sharply contemporary adaptation, and music and lyrics by perennial shit-stirrer Tim Minchin. Faithful to the Dahl classic, the mischevious tone is set early on with the first number ‘Miracle’ mocking obsessive parents and their Instagram-ready babies. From then on, it’s a subversive ride through the world of useless guardians, genius kids and England’s public school system.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone else upholding Dahl’s legacy the way Minchin has, so perfect is the synergy between the two artists. In a sensationally staged and perfectly cast production, it is Minchin’s musical genius that steals the show. His sense of structure, pathos and punning, and ability to trust the audience with his subtler witticisms, are on point at every turn. Not a single unnecessary lyric exists in the entire show, incredible given how densely worded it is.
Matilda has a particularly intense script, and the entire cast (half of whom are children) deserves recognition for mastering it. Ten-year-old Izellah Connelly hammered it home last night as the titular character, an extraordinary effort given it’s a role even the most seasoned actors would struggle with. On stage for almost three hours, and the centre of attention for most of that time, she is a pint-sized powerhouse. Brisbane audiences can be very proud of the talent that’s being fostered in the state currently.
Matilda slayed audiences in the West End and on Broadway, and the Australian tour has so far been no different. This is one of the best stage shows to have emerged in a decade, with perpetually relevant themes and songs that are instantly singable. If you’re daft enough to miss this hugely enjoyable night at the theatre, you deserve a stint in Chokey*.
*Chokey reference will not be explained here. If you don’t understand, get off your arse and buy a ticket to the show.
Matilda plays QPAC until 12 February 2017.