REVIEW: Anne-Marie Gatford’s verdict on Ryedale Youth Theatre’s Matilda Jr The Musical, Milton Rooms, Malton, April 12-16

At the double: Ryedale Youth Theatre’s two casts assemble for a Crunchem Hall Elementary School photograph

AND they’re back!  After a long, Covid –enforced break, Ryedale Youth Theatre returned with a sold-out run of this fast-paced, energy-filled show – and what a show they gave us. 

On account of the pandemic and because they have so many talented performers, the show was double cast in the principal roles, with Emily Umpleby and Alexa Johnson sharing the title role of Matilda herself.

On learning the show was double cast, I bought an extra ticket, and I’m so glad I did, as each cast was an utter joy to watch.  Two very talented young girls who conveyed Matilda’s plucky spirit perfectly, beautifully acted and sung. 

This spirit that was needed with parents like hers: a mother (Evie-Mae Dale/Matilda Gledhill) who wasn’t the least bit interested in her daughter, only her snake-hipped dancing partner Rudolpho (Charlie Fox/Lincoln Walsh), and a father (Alisdair Buck/Sam Piercy) who insisted until almost the end that Matilda was a boy. 

Matilda, left, Mr and Mrs Wormwood and Michael in Ryedale Youth Theatre’s Matilda Jr The Musical

The comedic element was brought to the fore by all the cast but especially by the excellent portrayal of Miss Trunchbull, the nasty headmistress of Crunchem Hall, the school Matilda is sent to. 

Both Joshua Lewis and Sam Spencer played the evil woman – who threw the hammer for her country – with ultimate nastiness and managed to make us all laugh at the same time, especially when she got a newt in her knickers.

The comedic timing by the all principals was a joy, and a skill that belied their youth. The hapless Bruce Bogtrotter, on confessing he had stolen a slice of cake from Miss Trunchbull’s tray, was made to eat the whole thing, and eat it most convincingly did Alex Bourke/Jack Robinson. 

The put-upon and kindly Miss Honey (Abigail Rennison/Millie Kemp) – both with lovely vocals – was Matilda’s champion throughout, and Matilda’s friend at the library, Mrs Phelps (Lillian Willliamson/India Collier-Hield), was always ready to listen to Matilda’s stories about the Acrobat (Eloise Myers/Lola Weatherill) and the Escapologist (Callum Hodgson/Evie Bates).  The scenes where this story was played out by the senior dance team were beautifully staged.  

Miss Trunchbull, right, Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cook with the chocolate cake in Ryedale Youth Theatre’s Matilda Jr The Musical

With so many cast members, this company managed to convince us that the children really were all at school: little boys scooting around the stage, girls with a jump rope and skipping, my eyes didn’t know where to look to catch all the action. 

The dancing and the choreography by ex-RYT member Lauren Hood was tight and perfectly in time with the music.  The singing and harmonies, under the direction of Rachael Clarke, were absolutely marvellous and filled the stage with such tuneful voices – although when the children sang about being “Revolting Children” they were quite the opposite.

The music provided by The Invisible Band enhanced the show and never overwhelmed the songs or the cast singing them. 

The production was under the direction of another ex-RYT pupil, Chloe Shipley, who brought the whole company together to present this vibrant and happy “comeback” show.  

Miss Trunchbull, left, Miss Honey and Matilda, centre, with Crunchem Hall pupils in Matilda Jr The Musical

Mention must be made of the costumes – perfect school uniforms, so many of them – overseen by Jane Gledhill and Kerry Myers, who have assumed the role which Yvonne Young had held for the first 30 years of RYT. 

The Backroom Boys and Girls and everyone else involved in this production deserve a mention too for their dedication to keeping this company going and ensuring that every performance ran like clockwork.

Ryedale Youth Theatre should have celebrated its 30th annual performance two years ago until Covid intervened. In that time, many members have left to further their education or careers but I’m glad to see there are so many talented members in the ensemble cast just waiting for their chance. 

With such a multi-skilled and enthusiastic group as this, I’m sure they will be around to entertain audiences for another 30 years.

Review by Anne-Marie Gatford

Matilda, second from left, with Mrs Phelps, the librarian, The Escapologist and The Acrobat in Ryedale Youth Theatre’s Matilda Jr The Musical