I don’t get that many evenings off to begin with, and even with greater rarity do I get an evening off in London to actually get to the theatre – especially on these short turnaround business trips. But when you’re staying literally across the road from the Cambridge Theatre where the marquee of Matilda-The Musical stares down at you, you sort of need to make an effort!
This Musical by Australian composer/lyricist, Tim Minchin; with book by Dennis Kelly, is astounding. Endlessly inventive direction from Matthew Warchus, built around sublime set and lighting design in the grand RSC tradition (will I ever forget that extraordinary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford in 1986?) all resound to create a theatrical illusion of grand, but simple, storytelling that is utterly compelling.
This evening’s performance had the talents of Lara Wollington as ‘Matilda’ on display, in what could only be described as a tour-de-force performance from a a very little person! Take a bow young lady, you are really terrific. Equally charming was Haley Flaherty in the role of Miss Honey, who admirably takes a backseat to the onstage presence and antics of the children whom surround her with disciplined energy manifest by very smart choreography created by Peter Darling.
What can you say about Tim Minchin? Having been asked to take down (transcribe) significant chunks of the musical score; as available on the original London cast recording, in the last few months, I can attest first-hand to the ingenuity of this score. It’s very subtle indeed how Minchin manages to capture the sound world of very small children, but dress it in song forms attributable to contemporary theatre song structure and form. Everything is very short-breathed, with inflections and emphases similar to children’s speech and singing patterns. It’s very disconcerting when you first start transcribing this music, as nothing is quite as it seems. A very impressive accomplishment by this Australian songwriter and composer.
Finally, a huge hand needs to also go to Chris Nightingale for the very clever orchestrations that underpin and support the rather disconcertingly professional singing of the company of children on stage who, by and large, sing in close-voiced harmonies most of the time. As an orchestrator, it’s a tough gig! Also, I’ve never liked the sound of the Cambridge Theatre – I think it’s just a difficult room sonically, so meeting this challenge in this space gets double points for overcoming the acoustic liability of the space.
Just charming and brings a smile to the face. Not a bad result for a night off.