Review: Matilda the Musical stages a revolt at Auckland's Civic Theatre

I'm always a bit apprehensive about musicals anchored by kids because you never quite know what you're going to get.

Thankfully, the kids of Matilda have plenty of talent, and attitude to boot, in what is a pleasingly modern retelling of a classic story.

Roald Dahl's feisty young hero is translated from the pages of his 1988 novel into a riotous swirl of colour and sound. On opening night, Matilda was played by 10-year-old Izellah Connelly, who did an extraordinary job of carrying the show on her tiny shoulders - her conviction and intensity was most endearing.

The story of the pint-sized genius with self-absorbed parents, a tyrannical headmistress and a kind-hearted teacher is pitched at all ages. The characters may be melodramatic and the humour over the top, but there are enough subtle layers to ensure it works. Of the adult cast, James Millar's sadistic Miss Trunchbull is a clear comedic highlight.

The show isn't afraid to venture into some dark, gritty corners. The use of adults as some of the children gives the show a slightly grotesque, very Dahl-esque feel, and also reminds us that we never truly grow up.

The students of Crunchem Hall, where Miss Trunchbull reigns with terror.
The students of Crunchem Hall, where Miss Trunchbull reigns with terror. Photo credit: Supplied

Tim Minchin's superb music and lyrics, and Peter Darling's boisterous choreography, both add to the infectiously playful atmosphere.

Minchin's need to keep his lyrics PG-appropriate does not dampen the cheekiness or wit for which the Australian musical comedian is already known. His songs range from the reflective 'Naughty' to the rollicking 'Revolting Children' and plenty more grin-inducing numbers in between.

However, despite the high energy performances throughout, some of the wordier songs suffer at the hands of the children's ensemble, losing a bit of their effect to the inevitable murkiness of young voices.

The show is not without some structural issues, either. The first act ends up being mostly focused on character development - and while it creates some great caricatures, it does leave most of the plot to be squished into the second act.

The overall effect is pure joy though - a celebration of children, imagination and being a little bit naughty.

Matilda the Musical is playing at Auckland's Civic Theatre until October 22.


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