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Review: MATILDA at Folketeateret

Review: MATILDA at Folketeateret

Matilda is 'a miracle!'

Review: MATILDA at Folketeateret 'Matilda - the musical' has wit, intelligence, heart and soul. To see this again in its Norwegian incarnation is, as the opening song says "A miracle". Many young stars were born yesterday at Folketeatret in Oslo.

Based on (Norwegian author) Roald Dahl's 1988 novel 'Matilda' the musical was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and has book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by comedian/singer-songwriter Tim Minchin (his first musical theatre score). It is the story of an unwanted daughter who turns out to be quite the prodigy. Mr Wormwood (Fridtjov Såheim)t is a dodgy second-hand car salesman who, rather foolishly, sells clapped-out bangers to the Bulgarian Mafia. Mrs Wormwood (Siren Jørgensen) has a passion for Latin American dancing and dresses in garish costumes. The Wormwoods dislike their daughter Matilda intensely. They do not understand her interest in books and encourage her to be like her older brother and fall comatose in front of the 'telly'. And Mr Wormwood even goes so far as to refer to Matilda as 'boy' even though she repeatedly corrects him. When Matilda heads off to school she surprises her teacher Miss Honey (Maren Ovida) with her mathematical skills and intelligence. But she falls foul of the child-hating headmistress, the former hammer-thrower Miss Trunchbull (Robert Stoltenberg).

Matilda has one of the strongest scores of musical theatre written past 2010. Tim Minchin's comedic songs are brilliantly intelligent for all ages. From the opening number 'Miracle' through to the hilarious 'The Hammer' and 'Loud' to the act one finale 'Bruce' - every song is created perfectly. Act two begins with the fantastic 'Telly' and 'When I Grow Up' uses playground swings to bring it to life. Minchin and Kelly continually take a stab where it hurts in ways the Walt Disney empire could only dream of, drawing a line from the fears and unfairness of childhood to the inevitable disappointments and frustrations of growing up.

Having the pupils of Crunchem Hall school played by both child and adult actors only enhances this, and at the end of 'When I Grow Up' at the point Matilda and her sympathetic teacher duet, they're not just singing as one - they might as well be the same person.

Even though I have heard this song plenty of times since it opened back in 2010 it still brings tears to my eyes, and makes me realize I'm still a kid aged 47 (with sentimental issues).

Review: MATILDA at Folketeateret

As in London and New York, three young performers share the title role, and the show lives or dies on their energy. Matilda has many complications, not an easy thing for a young actor to pull off, but on opening night, Henny Stålhand Arnø nailed her character's confidence and energy. She sings pitch perfect with great delivery of the text. This is star quality at its finest! The other Matildas, played by Othilie Loftesnes Gilbrant and Agnes Sulejewski Bjerckwill, will no doubt be equally good, with their own spin on the character.

Robert Stoltenberg is genius choice as Miss Trunchbull and shows just the right combination of wickedness and comedy. He really owns the stage from his first appearance, I always imagined he had a good singing voice, and he didn't disappoint. Those who expect Stoltenberg to take inspiration from many of his own female characters will have to think again. Miss Trunchbull is a completely differnt "animal", and I love it.

Siren Jørgensen and Fridtjov Såheim, as Matildas parents, are really, really bad, in a wonderful way. Jørgensen revels in her cruelty, and it is obvious she is having fun with her part. so this is yet another home run for her. Såheim makes his musical theatre debut as Mr. Wormwood. His comic skills are in full play so, as a pair, he and Jørgensen have the just right type of unpleasant chemistry together.

Maren Ovida makes her professional debut as Mrs Honey, and gives a solid performance. She embodies the character's kindness and warmth. She also has wonderful diction. Every word of Atle Halstensen's complex text is audible. Very good. Haddy Njie plays Mrs. Phelps, the librarian who loves to listen to Matilda's stories. Njie isn't given much to work with as Phelps is a rather passive character. But she too has just the right empathy and passion and it works nicely.

The ensemble are all great and on par with international standards. Special mention must go to Sigurd Martiniussen who plays the doctor in the opening number, as well as multiple characters throughout the show. His beautiful tenor voice really is a joy to listen to every time he is on stage. Also kudos to Carl Martin Prebensen as Rodolpho, who steals every scene with his Latino moves. Great fun.

But all in all this show's essential ingredient is the children, and whether they are talented enough to carry it on their young shoulders, and boy are these kids talented. They left me speechless more than once during the course of the show. Their harmonies and (most importantly) their dancing skills are on an international level. Special mention must go to Eilev Elnes Hovengen as Bruce (what a voice) and Leah Louise Borgen-Johansen as Lavender. They both shared the spotlight on several moments and impressed me a great deal. The other children performing on opening night were Emmy Allum Rønstad, Isabella Døvigen Sundby, Christine Gårdmoen, Leo Kristoffer Lyngvær, Oliver Dahl and Getuar Dihle Haaland. Brava to everybody.

The direction and choreography is based on Matthew Warchus' and Peter Darling's original staging. Ewan Jones, Stephanie Bron and Frode Gjerløw have managed to make it feel fresh and new. Rob Howell's costumes and sets are magnificently realized by resident designers, Sally Page Turner and Petr Hlousek. The countless alphabet cubes that make most of the scenery looks epic and amazing.

The musicians, under the leadership by Bendik Eide, are precise and to the point. It is really gratifying to get the "West End" sound in an Oslo show. Tim Minchin's lyrics are witty and full of clever rhymes, almost rivalling Stephen Sondheim. I am sure it has caused both pain and headaches to translate this, and make this fit well, while keeping the original spirit of the piece. Thankfully the end result is a really good and tight translation, done by Atle Halstensen, with just enough "local" references to make it feel relevant for a Norwegian audience. It also keeps the spirit of Roald Dahl, which is a huge bonus.

Matilda truly is the one of the most satisfying and subversive musicals in recent years. It is not long ago that det norske teatret presented another musical based on Roald Dahl's works, namely 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. But to say that this is musical is in a league of its own would be an understatement. I for one am very positive to presenting productions in their original incarnation, and not try to reinvent the wheel, when it is as strong as this. I truly feel this is Scenekvelder's best production thus far. This is a must-see-show!

Photo Credit: Fredrik Arrf

Review: MATILDA at Folketeateret

Miss Trunchbull: Robert Stoltenberg
Mr. Wormwood: Fridtjov Såheim
Mrs. Wormwood: Siren Jørgensen
Miss Honey: Maren Ovidia
Mrs. Phelps: Haddy Njie
Excecutive producer: Karianne Jæger
Direcor: Ewan Jones
Musical supervision: Atle Halstensen
Co-direcor: Frode Gjerløw
Associate choreographer: Stephanie Bron
Norwegian translation Atle Halstensen

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From This Author - Christian Ranke

Christian Ranke is a writer, singer, actor and graphic designer. He has translated several musicals, such as EVITA (Rice/Lloyd Webber), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (Dempsey/Rowe), PETER PAN – A M... (read more about this author)

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