Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 5th July, 2018
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s most successful production ever comes to Birmingham for the summer, making itself at home in the Hippodrome, just 20-odd miles from its point of origin in Stratford upon Avon. It’s been a few years since I last saw it and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be reminded of its brilliance.
Based on one of Roald Dahl’s novels for children, it contains a host of grotesque characters – gifts for any actor! – monstrous, unreasonable adults in contrast with our clear-thinking, upright young heroine. Matilda’s parents (Sebastian Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill) are cruel in their selfishness and neglect of the little girl they don’t know how to handle; Torkia comes into his own with a paeon to television to open the second act, while Thornhill gets to demonstrate her moves with some wild ballroom dancing, accompanied by a snake-hipped Matt Gillett as Rudolpho, her instructor – it’s like Strictly on too much sugar. The most grotesque of them all is, of course, sadistic headmistress Miss Trunchbull, in a show-stealing performance by Craige Els. It’s a delicious role, and Els makes a meal of it.
They’re not all horrible. Matilda finds succour from her friendly neighbourhood librarian, the attentive Mrs Phelps (Michelle Chantelle Hopewell) and especially from her teacher, Miss Honey (Carly Thoms). Thoms brings the right amount of mousiness to the part as Miss Honey develops a backbone, without being insipid or overly sentimental.
But the night belongs to the children. No one elicits quality performances from young actors like the RSC, and this current troupe keep the bar held high. Among the class, some stand out (although they are all disciplined, committed, and talented!): Dylan Hughes’s cake-guzzling Bruce, Madeline Gilby’s spirited Lavender… And, above all, a breathtakingly commanding performance from Lara Cohen in the title role, often holding the stage on her own. It’s incredible – with Cohen’s skills almost matching her character’s superpowers (Matilda is a kind of benevolent Carrie!)
Dennis Kelly’s book is redolent with Roald Dahl fun and nastiness, while Tim Minchin’s score is charming and clever, with plenty of good tunes – my favourite being the wistfully bittersweet When I Grow Up, joyfully presented on playground swings. Director Matthew Warchus elicits broad playing from his colourful cast. This is larger-than-life stuff, the stuff, indeed, of storybooks, but Matilda has no problem working her magic on young and old audience members alike.
One for the books: Lara Cohen as Matilda (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Leave a comment | tags: Birmingham Hippodrome, Carly Thoms, Craige Els, Dennis Kelly, Dylan Hughes, Lara Cohen, Madeline Gilby, Matilda, Matt Gillett, Matthew Warchus, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell, Rebecca Thornhill, review, Roald Dahl, Sebastina Torkia, Tim Minchin | posted in Theatre Review
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 21st May, 2018
When Serge splashes out 200 grand on a white painting, it becomes a bone of contention and causes a rift between him and his two best friends, Marc and Yvan. Or rather, it brings to the surface, resentments and feelings hitherto buried, and the 25-year friendship is in danger of exploding. This welcome revival of Matthew Warchus’s Old Vic production reminds us of how funny Yazmina Reza’s script is, through the prism of Christopher Hampton’s excellent translation. And so, these three middle-aged Frenchmen and their triangular association becomes a searing statement about the nature of friendship, more than a commentary on contemporary art.
Nigel Havers has never been better, in my view, than he is here as the urbane but uptight Serge. He is matched by a magnificent Denis Lawson as the scathing, cynical Marc, and an absolutely brilliant Stephen Tompkinson as the emotional, put-upon Yvan. Tompkinson gets to deliver a lengthy monologue about wedding invitations that is as hilarious as it is long. In fact, the comic timing of all three is impeccable and it is a joy to see these old hands, excelling at their craft.
Mark Thompson’s sparse but stately set serves as the friends’ apartments, suggesting also a gallery space with its bare walls and low furniture, while Hugh Vanstone’s lighting, with its shadows of a Venetian blind, suggests the supposed surface of Serge’s precious painting. Snappy asides from the characters are demarcated by sharp lighting changes, accompanied by the jazz-informed tones of Gary Yershon’s ultra-cool music.
It’s a breath-taking hour and a half, of bitter backbiting and savage rejoinders. An act of selflessness on the part of Serge salvages the trio – they will live to squabble another day – and furthermore, Marc is brought to his own understanding of what the painting signifies.
Like an actor on a stage, the painter covering a canvas is transient. Serge’s white canvas reminds us we are all figures moving through a space, and then we are gone. It’s a real punch in the gut from a show that has already made our sides ache with laughter.
Picture this: Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson (Photo: Matt Crockett)
Leave a comment | tags: Art, Birmingham Hippodrome, Christopher Hampton, Denis Lawson, Gary Yershon, Hugh Vanstone, Mark Thompson, Matthew Warchus, Nigel Havers, review, Stephen Tompkinson, Yazmina Reza | posted in Theatre Review