Arts Club Theatre, at Stanley Stage, until July 16th

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

It may be a controversial opinion, but before JK Rowling existed, there was Dahl. I lapped up his books like frobscottle and was, I must admit, slightly nervous about the prospect of seeing this seminal work in musical form. Unfounded, however, as this hilarious and heart-warming romp entertained from start to finish and will have children young and old squealing in their seats for more! - As long as its not more chocolate cake.


There are so many stand-out performances in this tri-city production but the first to be mentioned has to be Cory Sincennes' incredible slanted bookcase set with complementary lighting from Gerald King. The set design is simply magnificent; highlighting the importance of books as Quentin Blake did with his cover for Matilda in 1988. Working both in a literal (ha) and a metaphorical sense, these bookcases hold props, hidden doors to the unknown and are used beautifully by the performers to create levels.


The Arts Club have joined forces with both Edmonton's Citadel Theatre and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre to bring us this tale of a little girl whose first love and protector against her bullies are her books. With cartoonishly moronic parents and a tyrannical, hammer-throwing headmistress, Matilda is quick to learn that adults are sometimes wrong and with no one to reprimand them she fills the void to teach them a lesson, even if it means 'being a bit naughty'. Within the musical we are treated to several of Matilda's punishments - the best of which are pulled off with aplomb by Ben Elliot who plays her cocksure, second-hand car dealer father Mr. Wormwood. 


The Wormwoods, illustrated by Elliot and Lauren Bowler are outrageous. Bright and bold, with nothing in the brains department they excel in solo performances 'Loud' and 'TV'. A bingo fanatic in the book, in Kelly's musical Mrs. Wormwood has turned her hand to the Bi-Annual International Amateur Salsa and Ballroom Dancing Competition with her dance partner Rudolpho. This slight plot tweak allows for choreographer Kimberley Richards to show off the adult company's movement in a show which is mainly geared towards the children.


- And what children! Georgia Acken (who shares the titular role with Thailey Roberge) sparkles as reserved and sweet Matilda. Acken's voice is pure and she engages the audience throughout with clear intention and thought behind her actions - a feat many adult performers still lack! The children are accompanied by (in some cases) slightly taller companions from the adult company in many of the numbers but really hold their own in songs such as 'Miracle', 'Bruce' and 'Revolting Children'. On occasion it is difficult to make out lyrics, but with lines like 'You produce, Bruce, fantastically enthusiastic gastric juice' one can hardly blame bad diction! Performances by Ema Lake as Lavender and Angelo Cornel as Bruce are particularly delightful.


Now for the 'crunch' (-em). John Ullyatt does a fantastic job of entertaining the audience as 'demon' Headmistress Miss Trunchbull. That being said, I did mourn the loss of her beastliness. While musical-writer Kelly's Trunchbull is brimming with physical gags and a vile tongue; postulating that all children are 'maggots', I wasn't frightened of her. Perhaps a combination of Kelly's intention and a camp performance by Ullyatt rendered her much more a figure of fun - a cross between a pantomime dame and villain - than the character who in the book causes some children to 'get carried out on stretchers screaming.'


A biffsquiggling and whizzpopping success!   

- Liz Gloucester

I remember as a child, watching Matilda the movie, reading Roald Dahl’s novel, and being enthralled by the enchantment of the story. I was inspired by Matilda’s powers, her rise against the sinister and evil Miss Trunchbull, and the family she found in the sweet Miss Honey. This childhood love of the book and movie had me concerned that The Arts Club’s production of Matilda would pale in comparison, but I needn’t have worried. It is just as magical as I remember, made even more impressive in the live theatre.


As soon as you walk in, you’re hit with the magic. Cory Sincennes’ set is comprised of floor to ceiling bookshelves that the ever inquisitive Matilda would most definitely approve of. The shelves open up throughout the show creating doorways, revealing hidden rooms, and they include actual books that are used as props throughout the show. The set and props cleverly incorporate the magic of a tiny child eating an enormous chocolate cake, a newt-filled water glass mysteriously tipping over, and a ghostly chalk piece floating in the air whilst writing a damning inscription. Perhaps one of the most spectacular moments of the show is Trunchbull swinging a real child by her pigtails (albeit a wig) around the stage. 


The only censure I can think of is in the writing of the character of Miss Trunchbull. This is in no way a criticism of the performance of John Ullyatt as Miss Trunchbull. His performance is hilarious and riveting, he is perfect for the character as written for the musical. But he is not the Trunchbull of my childhood. The Trunchbull I remember terrified me. When I think of her I picture a monstrous woman that made everyone who met her tremble with fear. This made her defeat at the hands of Matilda, a small and seemingly helpless child, all that more powerful. The musical’s depiction of Trunchbull is not so much fear inspiring as it is laugh inspiring. Ullyatt’s performance itself is impeccable, the fault lies solely with the writing of the character as a comical farce instead of a terrifying villain.


Like Ullyatt, the other actors are spectacular. Again I was hesitant about the show, wondering how a cast consisting of predominantly children would work on a professional stage. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism and amazing skills these kids display. Georgia Acken (Matilda) is every bit as talented and confident as her adult co-stars. Acken, and all the children, are brilliant as they bring each character to life in their own individual way. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Ben Elliot and Lauren Bowler) are likewise remarkable. Both Elliot and Bowler bring their own spin to these selfish uncaring parents, not simply copying the iconic performances of Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito from the film. The performances in general were brilliant, and there wasn’t a weak link amongst the entire cast.


Matilda also reminds us of some important lessons, like Miss Honey telling us that the best way to teach is with “kindness, patience, and respect”; something we should practice in our everyday lives. In contrast, the kids remind us that sometimes you have to be “revolting”, when faced with an evil oppressive dictator like the Trunchbull.


So, if you want a feel-good and magical musical, the Arts Club’s Matilda is a perfect one for some light-hearted summer entertainment. The performances are great, the set’s amazing, and it is definitely a fun night at the theatre.

Ash Tisdale