Currently wowing audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, book by Denis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is playing to packed houses.
The story about a telekinetic bookworm has entertained children since its publication in 1988, and the recent musical is not the first time the tale has attracted the attention of a theatrical producer. Back in early 1990, a different musical production toured the theatres of the UK, and briefly stopped off at the Shaw Theatre, London.
It was produced by Castle Productions (Farnham) Limited in association with the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham, and was adapted from the book by Rony Robinson. Direction was by Graham Watkins, and the music and lyrics were written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. Both were accomplished musicians, and had written the theme tune to the BBC’s Miss Marple. The show featured 29 year old Annabelle Lanyon as Matilda, and Jonathan Linsley as Miss Trunchbull – this gender reversal of the villain was repeated in the new musical.
Reviews were mixed. Jeremy Kingston in The Times wrote that Lanyon’s “lovely” performance was “entirely convincing”, whilst Miss. Trunchbull was an “able villainess, built like a beer-barrel in brogues”. The music was “undistinguished”, and was heavy on drum beats. One production number apparently featured a “dancing harpooner from Moby Dick, a Charleston-ing couple from The Great Gatsby and far too many moles and white rabbits.”1
Michael Coveney in The Observer was much more scathing. Annabelle Lanyon’s performance was described as “painfully over-strained”, with a “relentlessly unmemorable” set of songs, and “feeble and old-fashioned” sets, consisting of a “cut-out surburban limbo”. In fairness, he did say that that audience, comprising of “little Matildas in Laura Ashley frocks and plastic Alice bands” seemed to enjoy the performance2.
The show seems to have disappeared from public memory, however some internet commentators recall a performance of the cast on Blue Peter, and Trunchbull’s song “I was Never a Child”3.
The show played the Theatre Royal, Hanley from 13th-17th February 1990.
Other cast included Tony Howes, Vicky Blake, Robin Hodson, Katrina Ramsay, Jackie Downey, Robert Karas, Ashley Knight, Katy Feeney, Paula Tappenden, Michael Berenger, Lisa Pugsley, Megan Shapcott, Paul Hicks, Juliet Thorneycroft.
1. Kingston, J., The Times, 26th April 1990, p.16
2. Coveney, M., The Observer, 7th January 1990, p. 39