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REVIEW: Matilda, Palace Theatre, Manchester

Craig Els as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical's UK tour
Craig Els as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical's UK tour
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While it’s unlikely Miss Trunchbull’s school will earn any Ofsted awards, Matilda The Musical is top of the class.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical theatre adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tale of the put-upon schoolgirl finally arrives in Manchester, eight years after its London premiere.

Blackpool schoolgirl Madeline Gilby appears in Matilda The Musical's UK tour

Blackpool schoolgirl Madeline Gilby appears in Matilda The Musical's UK tour

In that time it’s scooped trophies – 85 to date – wherever it has played, and enchanted more than 8 million theatregoers on the way.

You can add several thousand more here, for a touring production that delights from start to finish. The RSC hallmark of quality is evident throughout.

Dennis Kelly’s script, and especially Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics, add layers of thoughtful fun to Dahl’s original story, while the physical humour alone makes this one of the funniest shows seen in quite some time.

Much of that falls upon the hunched shoulders of Craige Els as Trunchbull. In shape and stature he jumps straight from the pages of Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake’s sketchbook.

Els may have played the role for three years in the West End but there’s nothing time-worn about his performance.

Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill, as Matilda’s equally unpleasant parents, are a class double act, while Carly Thomas, as the aptly-named Miss Honey, adds just enough sugary sentiment, and a strong singing voice.

In style and subject matter Matilda isn’t a million miles removed from that other stage show about the power of infant innocence, Annie.

But in place of American alkaline schmaltz, there’s Dahl’s acid reflex to the corrupting power of adulthood. Righting those grown-up wrongs is captured in the poignancy of songs like When I Grow Up.

In the title role on opening night Sophia Ally (one of four girls rotating the part) easily warranted her standing ovation, but the cast of kids around her – recruited from across the country and including Blackpool’s own Madeline Gilby – set an astonishing standard.

Someone, somewhere, has drilled them to Trunchbullian levels of discipline!

Until November 24.

DAVID UPTON