Matilda (2017, Cambridge Theatre) JohnnyFox November 16, 2017 Musicals, Reviews Matilda Wormwood is five. And just had her sixth birthday. Or rather the production of Roald Dahl’s children’s book Matilda adapted with enormous wit by Tim Minchin this week celebrated six years at the Cambridge Theatre. It’s extremely good, but it’s not the same show. At the original production, the Royal Shakespeare Company cast actors whose CV wasn’t necessarily long on musical theatre, and in particular a thirtysomething scholarship boy from RADA named Bertie Carvel who not only made formidable hammer-throwing headmistress Miss Trunchbull entirely his own, but went on to do it on Broadway and thence to combine stage and television notoriety by being the errant husband to Suranne Jones’ Doctor Foster, and the errant Rupert Murdoch in James Graham’s Ink. Comedian Paul Kaye played Matilda’s dodgy car-dealing dad and director Matthew Warchus cast his wife, American actress/singer Lauren Ward as the very English Miss Honey, Matilda’s kindly teacher, and she played it to great acclaim for three years. Now, at least according to the young ladies manning a confectionery stall in the Cambridge Theatre, this cast which has been in post for about two months is ‘definitely playing up the comedy’ and making the show ‘broader’. In fact, at some points, they’re hammering home jokes and lines with a vehemence which really isn’t necessary, but perhaps 2017 audiences aren’t listening quite as intently as they did even six years ago? The librarian Mrs Phelps who is Matilda’s only friend and confidante was played with motherly tenderness originally by Melanie LaBarrie and now by a more youthful Keisha Amponsa Banson. Maybe it’s my imagination, but she now seems dressed like a refugee from a Hackney Empire pantomime with what looks like the contents of a box of Quality Street embedded in her remarkable over-scale wig. I found the focus of the show shifted for me from the perception of how Matilda is abandoned by her ignorant parents – although there seems to be quite a foregrounding of their chavvy ignorance and rejection of ‘books’ and ‘cleverness’ which raises questions about Roald Dahl’s attitude to poorer families – to concentrate more on the telling of the story she imagines about the escapologist and the acrobat, very nicely done. But as a role model for little girls, it’s infinitely better than the suggestion of ‘get adopted by a bloated capitalist’ in Annie.