Matilda – December 2010

5/10

By: Book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, based on the book by Roald Dahl

Directed by: Matthew Warchus

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 13th December 2010

Not our cup of tea, but it was an excellent production, with very good to excellent performances. I preferred the adult bits – I found it hard to make out what the children were singing or saying most of the time, so I tended to lose interest when they were on. I didn’t know the story, and I’m not a fan of Roald Dahl’s work anyway, but I was glad to see so many others enjoying themselves. A lot of youngsters stood up at the end to applaud, which was great for the cast.

I also liked the fact that real children were cast in this production. It’s usually adults playing young, which is also fun, but I think this allowed the kids in the audience to feel more involved. I was surprised to see the way the young actors (and some of the older ones) were allowed to throw themselves onto the swings and float out over the audience. Where was health and safety when this was being set up? Not that I disapprove – it made it much more alive and exciting –  but in previous productions the actors have been padlocked to anything that might lift their feet off the ground by even a few inches! As I say, I was surprised to see them get away with all this risk taking – long may it continue.

The set was good, with its constant emphasis on books, books, and books. All sorts of contraptions were brought on and off without disturbing the flow, which helped a lot. The costumes were just perfect, although Rudolfo’s was perhaps less revealing than I (and I suspect many others) would have liked.

The performances of the real youngsters were very good. I particularly liked Lavender – she had good comic timing – and hope she has a long career ahead of her.  Matilda tonight was Kerry Ingram, and she was fine, though the problem with real children on stage is that they lack the range of expressions to convey emotions clearly. I managed to fill in the blanks well enough, though.

Bertie Carvel is one of our favourites, and it’s fair to say we haven’t seen him play the same character twice. Miss Trunchbull was certainly a mile away from anything we’ve ever seen him in before, although we know he does both musicals and comedy very well. His physical comedy was superb, and although Dahl’s style of villains isn’t to my taste, Bertie played this one to perfection. I even heard one woman say to her child as she left for the interval, “OK, then, man or woman?”. I think we know who she was talking about!

Mrs Wormwood was very good, and her song, Shout, was a great example of the barbed wit that was aimed more at the older audience members. Style over substance was her mantra, and don’t we just know all about that today! The contrast between the way the children were treated by their doting parents (little angels) and the way the outside world was going to lay into them (maggots) was spot on, as was the way the parents fussed over their little darlings, leading the teacher to smoke a fag on the steps by us, making faces at the things the parents said. Mrs Warchus (hire one, get the second half price?) was also a very beguiling Miss Honey, the nice one, and her voice worked beautifully with this music.

Overall, it wasn’t something I’d choose to see again, but it’s the last production we’re guaranteed to see in the Courtyard, and it wasn’t too much of an ordeal.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Fantastic Mr Fox – December 2007

6/10

Adapted by Sarah Woods from the story by Roald Dahl

Directed by: Steve Tiplady

Company: Little Angel Theatre

Venue: Stratford Civic Hall

Date: Thursday 20th December 2007

This was one of those shows where adults like us can feel a bit out of place, turning up without any kids in tow. Who cares! We’re always keen to enjoy ourselves, and as we’d liked the Venus and Adonis that Little Angle Theatre did as part of the Complete Works, we decided to give this a go as well.

It was great fun. We were in the minority – most of the audience were significantly under ten – but that didn’t matter a bit, although we might choose less conspicuous seats next time. Right in the middle of the front row was a bit obvious. It led to me being the strange ‘thing’ Mr Fox warned his cub not to go near, as he didn’t know where I’d been!

The Civic Hall had been transformed from when we’d seen Noughts and Crosses. The only seating was what had been the central block before, and the puppet theatre took up the front of the acting space. There was a jumble of screens, boxes, sheets, and walkways, which I can’t possibly describe in detail. The set also came to pieces – flaps opened up to show us the foxes tunnelling underground, and as the nasty farmers dug down to try and catch them, that part of the set was gradually taken away to show how far down they’d dug. A section on the left became the food store in the third farmer’s cellar. There were lots of cider bottles, and a mouse which was obviously very happy as it could drink itself silly whenever it liked.

The story is all about how Mr Fox (the fantastic Mr Fox) saves his family and steals loads of food from the three farmers who are so mean they want to kill Mr Fox and his family to stop them eating any more of their livestock. He’s a great tunneller, so he can dig himself and the family out of pretty much any difficulty. His kids follow him and have a great time seeing their daddy at work, but there are a few close shaves. Will Mr Fox save his family? And will they have enough to eat? Of course they do. It all ends happily with the farmers trounced, the foxes and their friends happy and safe, and lots and lots of delicious food to eat. Given that the rabbits have also been invited to the feast, I was a bit concerned that some of the guests might not make it back home, but this one’s for the kids, so let’s not go there.

The puppetry was fabulous again. We could see the puppeteers clearly, as they were in the light the whole time, and wearing ordinary but plain clothes. They also did the voices, and had to be pretty dextrous to manage all the various puppets that were moving around at the same time. Once again, I could have sworn the expressions on the puppets’ faces changed, but of course they didn’t. Different sizes of puppets were used at different times, to give a sense of perspective, and yes, I did get Steve to buy one of the cuddly Mr Fox’s on offer in the shop afterwards (he’s so cute!). (That’s the fox, by the way, although Steve’s pretty attractive too.)

I can’t comment on individual performers here, as I wasn’t really paying attention to them at all – how on earth do we do this thing in our brains where we can see people moving the puppets and completely ignore them like they’re not there? But it was very good fun, and entirely suitable for adults as well as kids. So there.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me