My granddaughter sent me a text: Nanny, I’m so excited. It was Tuesday evening and I was excited too. We were going to the theatre the following afternoon – just the two of us and we’d had the tickets for months. Just as Enid Blyton had characterised my childhood reading, so Roald Dahl’s wonderfully well drawn characters had been my children’s favourite, and whilst David Walliams seems to have assumed the mantle for today’s youngsters, Dahl survives, not least because several of his books have been made into some really wonderful films. I especially remember watching Matilda with my daughter many times. It was her favourite and I introduced my granddaughter to it when she was about four years old. (My daughter in law accused me on more than one occasion of trying to ‘recreate’ my daughter!) So when I heard that the musical of Matilda was coming to Birmingham Hippodrome, I knew we had to see it. We made a day of it, catching the 9:57 train for the 40 minute trip into Birmingham’s Grand Central station.
Granddaughter spied New Look. “Ooh, I love New Look,” she said so of course we went in…….and came out with her shorts and t-shirt in a bag, wearing a new skirt and top and stopping at every shop window to check her reflection! Time for a drink; I let granddaughter choose the venue. “Can you manage to get on one of those?” asked the cheeky monkey pointing towards the tall chairs pictured below!
I managed perfectly well! After a cool glass of lemonade we crossed the road to the ‘Old fashioned sweet shop’ which forms part of the National Trust’s Back to Backs museum. With her supply of ‘old fashioned candy’ purchased we took a short walk into ‘China Town’ for lunch. Having previously asked if we could ‘go somewhere really posh like Pizza Express (!!) my young companion had changed her mind and requested that we eat at a Chinese buffet. At thirteen I can’t imagine that I’d even heard of Chinese buffet restaurants, let alone profess to have favourite dishes! It wouldn’t have been my first choice, though I quite like Chinese food, but it was perfectly acceptable.
Soon it was time to make our way to the theatre. Our seats were well placed and we had a great view of the stage.
The lights dimmed, the theatre hushed. The music began. “My mummy says I’m a miracle,” sang the children. So far so good. Unfortunately it went downhill from there. I could not make out another single word they were singing until the same line was repeated and this set the tone for pretty much the rest of the show. The confidence and enthusiasm of the children is without question but we could barely work out the words of the songs because some of the diction was poor and in places the music drowned out the voices on occasion. When ‘Matilda’ (who has a great acting talent for one so young) sang, her voice was so shrill that it was really hard to make out the words. In a musical the songs tell an integral part of story so much of it was lost.
I am really unsure who this show is aimed at. The story is one for children but the humour was way over the heads of the many 5,6,7 year olds there. There was much shuffling and wriggling as it was far too long for such young children. Granddaughter said at the interval, “I don’t mind if you want to go.” We didn’t because I hoped, optimistically, that it would get better. It didn’t and afterwards we agreed that it had been sadly rather boring. After the enthusiastic applause I did wonder if we were in the minority but on the way out a woman said to me that she’d barely been able to make out any of the words in the songs. For an award winning production – what a disappointment.
I rarely post on Facebook but when we got home I wrote of our experience. Comments were mixed but two who had seen the same show in earlier weeks agreed. The positive comments came only from those who had seen the London version. However, it was the London show which prompted these reviews:
- Matilda the Musical might be a great show – if you could hear it (https://www.westword.com/arts/theater-in-denver-capsule-reviews-of-current-shows-9425575)
- How awful then that … the audience was powerless to understand most of the words coming off the stage (https://www.dallasobserver.com/arts/say-what-matilda-the-musical-is-visually-stunning-audibly-failing-at-the-winspear-7629408)
To be fair there are a number of great reviews too, but I’ve seen a good many shows at the Hippodrome over the years and loved every one – except this one.