Friday, March 1, 2019

Review: Matilda The Musical - at MBS till 17 March 2019

Jeremy Lee attended the Gala Night of Matilda The Musical. Here is his review, read on to find out why you should attend the show before it ends on 17 March 2019!

Does your child think he’s the best? Do you want to wean the little tyke off of the plague of entitlement that besets many Singaporean children nowadays?

Bring the mini-me to see Matilda The Musical, the latest offering from the hardworking folks at Base Entertainment Asia, now playing at the Marina Bay Sands till 17 March 2019.

The multiple-award-winning Broadway and West End show, based on the book by the late, beloved novelist Roald Dahl, doesn’t treat children with kid gloves - in fact, it actively brings them down a peg or two.

The opening sequence, Miracle, hammers this point home right at the start, with children declaring that their parents say that they are “a miracle”, “special” and a “princess/prince” - teachers in Singapore who have dealt with spoiled pupils may find this all-too familiar.

The children are quickly brought down to earth, though, when they start school and are unceremoniously warned by older students of “severe” punishments, “tragedy” and a “living hell” under a violent headteacher - more on her later.

Speaking of miracles, we come to a girl who is indeed very special indeed - our intrepid heroine Matilda, who at age five reads voraciously, tells her own stories, and can do genius-level mental arithmetic. Ironically though, unlike the other indulgent parents, Matilda’s folks Mr and Mrs Wormwood don’t adore her gifts - they are goons played with cruelty and comic relish by Stephen Jubber and Claire Taylor, a gruesome couple reminiscent of the Thénardiers in Les Miserables to Matilda’s young Cosette.

Mr Wormwood chews the scenery in his scenes where he comes close to abusing the poor girl, blaming her for his business troubles, mocking her for reading books instead of watching TV, and attempting to intimidate her while Matilda repays his affections by playing hilarious pranks on him, and Jubber uses his comic range to great effect here.

Taylor is no slouch either, playing a bimbo more concerned with looks than getting an education. She’s also obsessed with dancing and her dance partner, the ridiculous Rudolpho.

Matilda herself is played by four winsome and talented lasses - Lilla Fleischmann, Morgan Santo, Kitty Harris and local girl Sofia Poston. During the media gala, we were treated to a gutsy, smart and very mature performance by Sofia, who easily went from cheeky to plucky and emotional using confident acting and a strong singing voice. Any child actor who plays this role deserves plaudits, as even adults would find it challenging to lead a close-to-3-hour-long show by themselves, with difficult songs (Naughty), breakneck dancing, tear-jerking and confrontational scenes. The show is worth seeing even if just for this reason.

Of note too is the performance by Ryan De Villiers as Miss Trunchbull - a role of huge presence typically played by a man. As the primary villain, audiences may be horrified to see Trunchbull treat her children like Margaret Chan treats cockroaches - she wants to crush them, not just physically but in spirit as well. She is a beast, both literally and figuratively, and in real life would be arrested and jailed - one scene has her swing a girl around by her pigtails. De Villiers is simply superb in the role, imbuing the character with cartoonish villainy similar to Gru in the animated movie Despicable Me, but a tad more sinister.

In contrast, Matilda’s teacher with a heart of gold, Miss Honey (Bethany Dickson), is a breath of fresh air. She quickly becomes close to Matilda as the only person in the school who recognises her talent, and tries to encourage it by giving her more books to read. Dickson has a quiet and appealing dignity, and also an amazing singing voice that is unfortunately not used enough in the show. She uses it to best effect in the plaintive This Little Girl, where she is conflicted between trying to save Matilda from her plight, and her own insecurities.

What I found most impressive about the show were the inventive and energetic dance sequences featuring the schoolchildren (many played by adult dancers, who did the heavy lifting in terms of potentially back-breaking gymnastics). The swing sequence When I Grow Up, where the children go ever-higher on custom-made swings, is a delight to watch. School Song, where children climb the school gate using letters of the alphabet referred to in the song, is creative and cool. The highlight, though, is the Revolting Children sequence at the end, where the children triumphantly dance around and on top of desks.

Audiences may be shocked by the treatment of children in this show, and the lack of respect for Matilda’s precociousness, but it what they should take away from the happy ending it is that bullies don’t win - and all it takes to beat them is an indomitable spirit.

Matilda runs at MBS's Sands Theatre till 17 March 2019. Check out the Events Page for tickets!

Check out our exclusive production and BTS photos on our Facebook Group!

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