Think of West End and Broadway hits, and you think… Cats. Les Mis. Phantom. The Lion King. Wicked. But did you know that Matilda The Musical holds the record for most Olivier Awards ever won by a musical – tying with Hamilton in 2018?
Once you’ve seen the SA production, running at Montecasino’s Teatro, you may begin to understand why. (And you’ll love it, whatever your age.)
As deliciously British as mushy peas, this is a witty musical adaptation by The Royal Shakespeare Company of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 novel, Matilda.
It remains true to Dahl’s unrepentantly bleak vision of childhood: riotous and poignant, grotesque and menacing, funny and horrifying – thanks largely to ingenious music and lyrics by writer Dennis Kelly and composer/lyricist Tim Minchin.
But what impressed me the most wasn’t the music (although it’s catchy and clever).
It wasn’t the singing, which is gorgeous; nor the adult performers, who are stellar (highlights include Ryan de Villiers’ diabolical Miss Trunchbull and the dreadful Mr and Mrs Wormwood played by Stephen Jubber and Claire Taylor).
It wasn’t even the super-slick, uber-modern, ultra-expressive dance numbers…
Those sets! Those kids!
What blew me away was those exquisite sets – some of the best I’ve seen anywhere – as the backdrop for an epically talented cast of pint-sized performers.
Rob Howell’s stage design takes the form of a vibrant explosion of ABCs, board game tiles, and towering shelves of books, along with swings, and slings, and sparkly things. Look out, in particular, for the eye-poppingly clever staging of School Song, The Chokey Chant, When I Grow Up, and The Smell of Rebellion.
And then, prepare yourself for Matilda herself. Because she’s an utter delight.
We saw Morgan Santo in the role – complete with spot-on British accent, lovely singing, flawless acting, and an earnestly furious edge, especially when confronting the fearsome Miss Trunchbull or her schmendrick car salesman father.
Santo was complemented on the night by an excellent cast of youngsters; in particular, Bruce (played by Jack Fokkens) and Lavender (Taylor Salgado).
My 7-year-old, uncharacteristically speechless on watching Santo, later said, “Wow. That was a child, mom…doing that big of a show, and remembering all those lines!”
For me Matilda The Musical is about the fact that, even when things seem hopeless and all of the grown-ups in your life are evil trolls, you can control your own story thanks to the transforming powers of imagination, rebellion and friendship.
P.S. My daughter’s main takeaway was ‘Read books!’ But she wants me to inform you that she gave the singing 10/10 and the dancing 9/10, and to ask you to warn your kids that some principals (not hers, but some!) can be very mean.
The tickets (from R200-R520, depending where you sit) aren’t cheap. And the play’s not a casual kiddie-style performance, where no one glares at littlies giggling through the aisles. So I wouldn’t take kids under 6 unless they’re theatre aficionados. There are also strobe lights in the first half, which may upset the epileptic/highly sensory.
The Johannesburg production of Matilda The Musical runs until 2 December 2018 at the Teatro at Montecasino. Tickets are available on Computicket. Do it. It’s gorgeous.