Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre

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Christmas is not Christmas without a family trip to the theatre. And this year there’s only one show in town.  Well… that’s not strictly true, but you catch my drift. It’s hard not to gush about Matilda The Musical, which has just opened at the Cambridge Theatre and will hopefully become a permanent fixture in London’s West End.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has dusted down Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s classic and given it an all-singing, all-dancing makeover.

The play opens with a chorus of children boasting that “My mummy says I’m a miracle”. A million miles from those proud parents is ballroom dancer Mrs Wormwood, who, to her dismay, has just discovered she is pregnant – and nine months gone at that.

Her husband, a brash wheeler dealer (played by comedian Paul Kaye), is rather more upbeat about Matilda’s arrival, until he discovers she’s a girl. The uncouth pair adopt a peculiar style of parenting; ignoring and teasing their daughter in equal measure.

But despite their best efforts to get her to stop reading and watch more telly, Matilda turns out to be a bookworm extraordinaire. The little girl, played by one of four very talented young actresses, seeks solace in a kindly librarian and her sensitive teacher, Miss Honey. There is no doubt that Matilda (ours was played by 11-year-old Cleo Demetriou) is the star of the show. Her powerful voice and fine acting suggest a lengthy career lies ahead.

That said, it is the humour that makes this such a success and that is thanks to writer Dennis Kelly and musical comedian Tim Minchin, who wrote the score and lyrics for the play.  There’s a laugh a minute when Matilda’s crude, uncaring parents are on stage, but it is actor Bertie Carvel who steals the show as the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.

Carvel’s hilarious depiction of the one-time Olympic hammer thrower is comedy genius. With her high-pitched voice and uber-padded outfits, Miss Trunchbull is like an extreme kickass pantomime dame. Though a little fearsome at first, she soon becomes the villain we love to hate, which explains why Carvel recently won the award for Best Performance in a Musical at the 2011 Theatre Awards UK.

I’m not sure who loved Matilda more – me or my kids. There were a few loud bangs and a couple of split-second scary moments, but otherwise their little faces were plastered with huge grins throughout. Whether or not you have children, Matilda is a wonderful show with catchy tunes and a brilliant script so be sure to catch it while you can.

Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre until 12 February 2012. Book tickets