The Royal Shakespeare Company is gracing our local boards with a show made possible by GMG Productions. Here is our review of Matilda the Musical.

Few people have ever reached the same heights of fame and affection as the iconic Roald Dahl: His stories have endured the test of time, and have captivated young readers across the globe. It is his signature whimsy: be it in the form of an everlasting gobstopper in a magical chocolate factory, to the adventures of a gentle giant, and of course, the story of a precocious little girl who realized that she can move things with her eyes.

The Olivier and Tony award winning Matilda The Musical comes to Manila, practically bursting at the seams with classic British wit and irreverence. The critically acclaimed show has transformed The Theater at Solaire into a veritable wonderland. Developed and directed by Matthew Warchus, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and book by Dennis Kelly, Matilda The Musical is a wonderful show that distills the essence of the original Roald Dahl book, and fleshes out its characters to surprising, and sometimes frightening results. The heart of the story is a plucky, bushy-haired young girl with a wild and colorful imagination. This fierce intellect radiates from her and affects everybody around her, highlighting the different ways different people react to extraordinary things.

Despite being based on a children’s book, Matilda has so many layers of meaning. Chief among these themes is the relationship children form with their parents and their analogs, like teachers and other adult authority figures. The show opens upon the birth of Matilda and the circumstances that surrounded her; a scheming con-artist as a father, an emotionally distant mother who is REALLY into competitive ballroom dancing, and a brain-dead zombie of a brother. The show pokes fun and makes light of this situation, but it does not hide the fact that this less-than-ideal environment naturally leads to Matilda being dismissed and neglected. The opening montage of the show emphasizes the gap between what we perceive as the normal, doting relationship a vast majority of parents share with their children, and how her parents mistreat her with distorted, cartoonish cruelty.

Matilda finds solace in books and the classic stories that inhabit them. She spins tales for a friendly librarian and is enrolled in a school with a sympathetic teacher, Miss Honey. The school’s headmistress, the formidable Miss Trunchbull, is an amalgamation of everything horrible and reprehensible in an educator, whose idea of disciplining children involves force-feeding them gigantic chocolate cakes and driving children to point of exhaustion with what looks like CrossFit from Hell disguised as Physical Ed. It is interesting to note the use of the school as a plot device since children spend so much of their time in school, and they form important substitute parental bonds with their teachers. This makes Matilda’s situation much direr since her fierce intellect receives no support from neither home nor school. What she has to hold on to, the one constant in her life, is her unshakeable sense of justice, an innate sense of right and wrong, gleaned from poring over books and actually understanding that sometimes “one must stand on principle, or one will not stand at all.”

Sofia Poston as Matilda is fascinating

Sofia Poston was endlessly endearing as Matilda: her wry, but brilliant, deadpan portrayal reflects a tragic truth: in that emotionally neglected children usually distance themselves from any sort of connection. She anchors the show as it spins around her in a kaleidoscope of color and sound. Haley Flaherty plays an utterly charming Miss Honey, the emotional refuge that Matilda and the audience gravitate towards. Stephen Jubber and Claire Taylor who play Matilda’s dismissive and vapid parents Mr. Wormwood and Mrs. Wormwood, respectively, are downright wizards in physical comedy: their larger-than-life characters dominate any scene they’re in. Another standout is Matthew Leck as Bruce, who (even after consuming the previously mentioned chocolate cake) rouses and inspires in his star turn in “Revolting Children”, probably the most well-known and loved numbers from the show, which sends the audience cheering.

And since everybody loves a big, bad, baddie, the phenomenal Hayden Tee brings down the house with his portrayal of Miss Trunchbull. With solid vocals, and a thoroughly convincing attitude to match, Tee turns up the menace to a frightful, but absolutely entertaining eleven. His gigantic, brash performance is a fitting opposite the detached and self-possessed defiance of the tiny Matilda, and despite the character’s more sinister intentions and motivations, brightens up the stage whenever he steps into the light.

The show is uncharacteristically sincere: as is oftentimes the case with large-scale productions where the sheer weight of its visual spectacle overwhelms the story and the quiet moments that make theatre special and personal. But underneath the gloss and almost mechanical precision of this massive production lies a tender truth that shines through. The Theater at Solaire has been transformed into what can only be described as a manic scrabble set. The proscenium theater becomes an elaborate bunch of blocks that morphs to build structures, pretty much how the process of story-building goes. It’s also filled to the brim with stagecraft and magic, serving as the platform on which an entirely fantastic world exists.

Matilda is the current must-watch show in town. Its heart and message is universal and would be a great evening (or afternoon) spent with kids of all ages. This enduring classic has been revitalized and has been made into beautiful and entertaining theatre, which will delight and inspire for many years to come.

“Matilda The Musical” is onstage at The Theater At Solaire in Pasay City, from March 7 to 22. Tickets are available through TicketWorld and the Theater At Solaire Box Office.

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