When Noel Coward warned a certain Mrs Worthington against putting her daughter on the stage, it's highly likely that he didn't have Matilda The Musical in mind at the time. For not only are its young cast members in the spotlight, they fully deserve to be there. That said, I do worry about the psychological consequences for any young girl who finds herself the focus of rapturous applause from a near-sold out Edinburgh Playhouse.
Freya Scott's performance is tight, her voice clear and yet surprisingly emotive.
As a performer, Freya Scott (playing the titular character on the night of this review) takes everything in her stride: more, she embodies the musical's distinctive mix of innocence and the grotesque, ensuring we immediately take the scripted precocious, five-year-old book-reader to our hearts. Scott's performance is tight, her voice clear and yet surprisingly emotive, whether she's singing about being "Naughty" or finding solace in the "Quiet". The rapturous applause she receives at the end is perfectly justified; it's an open wonder of this now-touring show that the producers continue to find such talented young stars.
There's little to say about the show itself; Dennis Kelly's script feels more in keeping with Roald Dahl's original novel, at least in comparison to the film adaptation, while Tim Minchin's lyrics and score – if lacking an obvious "breakout" hit – nevertheless successfully build character, narrative and atmosphere. Although the sound system at the Playhouse on occasions sounds a bit tinnier than it should, there's an undoubted scale to this production which ensures its not swamped by playing in such a large venue. Rob Howell's set and costume designs, along with Hugh Vanstone’s lighting, all contribute notably to the whole story.
Disappointingly, some ensemble songs (especially from the children) lack total clarity in diction and emotion, but overall the production is evenly balanced, with Elliot Harper (cruel head-teacher Miss Trunchbull) and Carly Thoms (kind teacher Miss Honey) finding nuances in their particular characters. Thanks to the strength of its original source, "Matilda The Musical" undoubtedly enjoys a narrative focus and relative complexity all too rare nowadays, especially in comparison to most jukebox musicals. Good show!