Musicals aren’t always magic. Sometimes they are cheesy or thin when it comes to plot or conveying human emotions. But not Matilda The Musical.
Based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name (omit the The Musical part, of course) you have a show about feeling, kindness and above all, giving in to the fact that we should all be a little naughty.
Look a little deeper and the show’s timing in South Africa couldn’t have been better.
You see, Matilda isn’t just about a feisty little girl that uses her noodle to beat an oppressor, it’s a show about overcoming the draconian systems of life, about saying no to our bullies and standing up for ourselves.
It’s a message that is more important than ever when you look at what South Africans have to say yes to every day as politicians laugh in their faces, with their grubby little hands in peoples’ pockets.
Even the book for the South African tour alludes to the political nature of the show, highlighting words like ANC and EFF in School Song, a song meant to instil fear in the hearts of young children starting school by telling them they are not special.
Move on to the stage design and Matilda does the unthinkable. It asks its audience to read. There are letters everywhere, some spelling out words. But that’s not the show’s only spell.
From the opening number, Miracle, to the final curtain call, Matilda ropes you in with its absolute charm. While big musicals often rely on “ah” moments in the form of sweeping confessions of love, Matilda does it by realising everyone in the audience was or is a child.
A standout musical number is When I Grow Up, where the children on stage dream about the wonders of being an adult, how many sweets they will eat and how much television they will watch.
Adults giggle because they know the absurdness of the song, while it gives the young ones in the audience a message that it all gets better, something that shows you exactly how clever Tim Minchin’s lyrics are.
The South African production is unbelievably well-cast and if you were to run videos of the show next to the West End production, the differences you’ll see will be tiny. It makes sense – this has been a big hit for The Royal Shakespeare Company – and the show needs to be on par with other international productions which have been stealing hearts since opening early in the decade.
The cast is phenomenal, with Ryan de Villiers delivering a career-defining performance as Miss Trunchbull.
The three actresses selected to portray Matilda – Morgan Santo, Kitty Harris and Lilla Fleischmann – will ensure every performance will have you touching your heart when they tell you to sometimes let go of the rules.
If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie Matilda, that’s fine. The musical presents a new version of the story, in the spirit of Dahl, but adapted for stage in a fizz-popping delightful way that does justice to a story about a little genius that overcomes all odds.
This is the one show you shouldn’t miss this year.
Cast: Ryan de Villiers, Morgan Santo, Kitty Harris and Lilla Fleischmann.
Directors: Natalie Gilhome and Anton Luitingh.
Theatre: The Teatro at Montecasino and Artscape.