Magical Matilda is just a Dahl-ling of a show

Matilda is British and brilliant.

Here is a ­family show with sufficient cruelty to satisfy teenagers, parping noises to tickle the under-tens and enough senti­mentalism to make parents reach discreetly for their hankies.

What I like best about this Roald Dahl adaptation is its dramatic inventiveness, astonishing performances from the child actors and, most of all, its attack on moron parents in our telly age.

Adrianna Bertola as Matilda in the musical Matilda

Superb: Adrianna Bertola as Matilda in the musical Matilda

Its celebration of scholastic excellence really stuffs it to the dumb-down brigade and is both politically and culturally timely.

Matilda Wormwood is not an orphan but might as well be. Her parents (Paul Kaye and Josie Walker) are low-lifes who tease clever Matilda for reading and wish she would ‘veg’ in front of the TV like ‘normal’ children. Mr Kaye, leaping around in a bilious green-checked suit, is all John Cleese legs and Joker grimaces.

Not that Mr and Mrs Wormwood are the height of nastiness. Meet Matilda’s headmistress Agatha Trunchbull, former Olympic hammer thrower and gold medal Gorgon. She is played with hunched shoulders, leather trench coat and bandy legs by Bertie Carvel. Quelle horreur! 

A long whisker stands proud on her facial wart. She wears not so much a sports bra as a builder’s hod. The most terrifying thing about her is the resemblance she bears to at least one former headmistress of a leading private school for girls.

The story shows how the bookishness of Matilda can protect her against the ­bullying of her parents and La Trunchbull. Along the way a kindly teacher (Lauren Ward) shows Matilda and her classmates that not all grown-ups are villains.

And in the middle of it all, on the night I went, Adrianna Bertola was giving the performance of her young life as Matilda. I watched this child ­tripping round the stage, singing, soaring, and could barely believe what I was seeing. During the run, she is sharing the role with two other girls.

It is hard to contain one’s superlatives. A scene with swings has the children flying over the audience and catches all the possibilities of ambition. Classroom desks pop up from under the stage. Director Matthew Warchus has drilled his young cast superbly.

At half-time I was wondering if there had been quite enough gooey-ness to give the evening the full, heart-tugging experience of a great musical, but my qualms were soon answered. Maybe the songs lack one really magical melody, but that is balanced by the wit of the lyrics and the choreography.

My one reservation is that the show is being produced by the publicly-funded Royal Shakespeare Company. Some will say the success of this show justifies the RSC’s pursuit of new work. But is it the duty of Arts Council cash to underwrite commercial risk?

If Matilda becomes a global hit, as I suspect it will, let us tax­payers scoop the financial profit.