Those seeking to banish the January blues should hotfoot it to the Cambridge Theatre for a gloriously uplifting injection of energy and exuberance courtesy of the RSC’s Matilda the Musical.
Roald Dahl’s celebration of the redeeming power of the imagination is magically translated to the stage by writer Dennis Kelly and lyricist Tim Minchin. Watching pint-sized prodigy Matilda, champion of justice and mistress of her own destiny, triumph over a truly toxic trio of odious parents and diabolical headmistress is both enormous fun and unexpectedly moving. The role was expertly played by mini powerhouse Kerry Ingram (who alternates with three other girls). While the cast is uniformly strong, the show-stealer has to be Bertie Carvel, whose finely calibrated portrayal of the psychopathic torturer Agatha Trunchbull steers clear of caricature, managing to be comic and chilling in equal measure — and even, if only for a nanosecond, capable of eliciting our sympathy.
The show is a highly digestible blend of dark and light. As well as rejoicing in burp jokes, it is shot through with clever contemporary references and intelligent comment that will ensure it appeals to adults as well as children. And it is wholly involving: I wanted to leap up and punch the air when Bruce (James Beesley) launched into a power ballad after the mighty mites’ victory in the spelling revolt.
In what could be a mantra of our celebrity-obsessed age Mrs Wormwood declares: ‘Content has never been less important.’ Matilda proves her mother resoundingly wrong.