Little people packed a mighty punch in the RSC’s effervescent production of the musical Matilda, which has just opened at Norwich Theatre Royal.
It wasn’t just Matilda (Sophie Woolhouse) who had superpowers – she can make things move with her eyes. Her classmates at the scary Miss Trunchbull’s school were also magical with their jaw-droppingly fizzing and feisty dance routines, executed with tight precision.
The quirky story, based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, is loosely about a highly-intelligent, studious little girl born to dreadful, uncaring parents (dad’s a dodgy second-hand car salesman and mum’s obsessed with Latin-American dancing), her determination to stand up for what’s right, and her search for love.
Borrowing a famous phrase from the show: “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” – and it was. Every movement, speech and sound effect was slightly weird and over-the-top in a way that was carefully measured, very funny and a touch dark.
I loved Rudolpho (Matt Gillett), as Matilda’s mum’s dance partner with his dramatic Latin movements and leather-clad pert buttocks.
And Miss Trunchbull was brilliantly played by Elliot Harper, looking like the world’s worst granny, with the figure of an American quarterback, delicate hand movements and softly sinister voice.
The creative set (Rob Howell) and choreography (Peter Darling) were at their best for me in School Song where performers threw themselves around a climbing frame grid, sitting and stepping on alphabet blocks as each was pushed into place, perfectly in time with Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics.
In such a full-on, loud production it would be easy to lose the focus on Matilda – one small, serious girl. But Sophie Woolhouse, although only pocket-sized, had a charismatic presence expressed in every deliberate word and body movement. We knew exactly what this determined young person felt and meant at every stage. Three other actresses will also play the role during the Norwich run, which lasts until August 17.
The show richly deserved the standing ovation we adults and children all gave it. It’s an exhilarating and funny night’s entertainment – catch it if you can. Contact: www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk Tel 01603 630000
Pictures: Helen Maybanks/Manuel Harlan.