Why Roald Dahl's Matilda swept the 2012 Olivier Awards

Apr 16, 2012

As four young actresses share best actress award for Matilda, here's why the critics raved

Tim Whitby/Stringer

Matilda the Musical dominated the Olivier awards last night, winning a record seven gongs. Kerry Ingram, 12, Sophia Kiely, 12, Eleanor Worthington Cox, 10, and Cleo Demetriou, 10, were joint winners of the best actress award for playing Matilda. All four play the lead role, because children are only allowed to appear in two shows per week.

MATILDA, the musical adaptation by Australian comedian Tim Minchin and the RSC of Roald Dahl's timeless novel about a young girl with extraordinary powers, swept the Olivier Awards last night, winning in seven of the 10 categories in which it was nominated.

In addition to gongs for best new musical and best director for Matthew Warchus, there was a group award for best actress in a musical to the four young actresses playing the lead role and best actor for the cross-dressing Bertie Carvel as the monstrous headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda's success at the Oliviers has been matched by near-unanimous critical reaction on its West End opening last October and by excitement over its move to Broadway, where auditions have reportedly begun, though it's not due to open until next year.

"Matilda is a fabulous family fizzer," said Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail when the show opened last autumn. “It has strong tunes, witty lyrics and enough  'eew!' moments to satisfy the most revolting urchin."  For Letts, Carvel's Trunchbull "is a character to terrify tiddlers as much as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child catcher did 40 years ago." And as for her wart - "All twitchy and hairy and big enough to snag a lasso".

Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times asked: "Where to begin... with Carvel? His hunch-shouldered bulk and towering height contrasting with an eerie, simmering calmness and elocution that channel Joyce Grenfell and Margaret Thatcher." Carvel owns the role so much, "his function as a totemic hate figure [is] realised so fully, that the audience rises and cheers when Matilda finally answers back."

Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph noted that "the children in the ensemble are terrific. Eleanor Worthington Cox achieved a lovely mixture of solemnity and mischief as the heroine who discovers that to beat the wicked adults you sometimes have to be 'a little bit naughty'." Matilda, Spencer predicted, "will delight audiences for years to come - it is the best new British musical since Billy Elliot."

The backroom boys were lauded by Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard, for whom "the heart of this satisfyingly fresh adaptation of a cherished Roald Dahl story [is] Minchin's music and lyrics, which ooze humour without veering towards smugness," while "Rob Howell's towering design is ingenious, there is delicious choreography by Peter Darling and director Matthew Warchus marries... dazzling, noisy brilliance with... real poignancy."

  • 'Matilda' is booking at the [5] Cambridge Theatre[5], London WC1 until October 2012.


Best new play: Collaborators at the Cottesloe

Best revival: Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse

Best actor: Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller for Frankenstein at the Olivier

Best actress: Ruth Wilson for Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse

Best supporting actor: Sheridan Smith for Flare Path at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Best new musical: Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge

Best musical revival: Crazy For You at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Best actor in a musical: Bertie Carvel for Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge

Best actress in a musical: Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Sophia Kiely and Eleanor Worthington-Cox for the Matildas in Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge

Best supporting actor in a musical: Nigel Harman for Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Best director: Matthew Warchus for Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge

BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award (voted by the public): Les Miserables at the Queen's

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