Fantastic Mr Minchin wows the West End

Comedian earns acclaim for musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic surreal novel Matilda
  • @robbiesharp

It is the latest West End smash hit, a musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda every bit as surreal and twisted as the literary original about a bookish girl with extraordinary powers. But, above all, critics have praised one man for bringing Dahl's tale to life: an Australian with back-combed hair and a penchant for eye-makeup.

Newspaper critics have almost unanimously praised the Australian comedian Tim Minchin's lyrics and music for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Matilda the Musical, which opened at the Cambridge Theatre in London on Thursday, after transferring from Stratford-upon-Avon. Those attending the production's opening night praised Minchin for his "genius" words, combined with a play adapted by the writer Dennis Kelly.

Now Minchin's spokesperson confirmed the comedian is set to write his own musical from scratch, something his high-profile fans will no doubt be looking forward to.

Downton Abbey's star Hugh Bonneville called Minchin a "genius". "It's amazing that he won the award the other night... I feel privileged to be here," he said.

The show won the Evening Standard award for best musical last weekend. It has since won rave reviews from newspapers including the Daily Mail – "a family fizzer" – and The Independent – which called it a "colourful riot".

Kelly said he wrote a "play with holes in it" for Minchin's songs. "I knew of Tim, but I hadn't seen his stuff and went to see a gig and found him brilliant," he said.

"We both know what we want, and neither one of us is the kind of person who will do what someone says... I couldn't have done it on my own. It was totally a combination of Tim and me."

Minchin said he was in a state of "disbelief" at the production's success. "It's incredibly exciting and all the things you might think of, and then add 80 per cent," he said.

The story follows Matilda, a child prodigy who reads classics including Dickens and Dostoevsky. She has telekinetic and psychic powers, but is bullied by her parents. Songs in the musical, which was also a huge success in Stratford, include "When I grow up", defined by accessible, repetitive lyrics: "When I grow up, I will be smart enough to answer all the questions that you need the answers to."

Talking previously about his creative process, Minchin said: "I've written lyrics to fit the script. There's themes that weave into stuff... You react to the text lyrically and then you react to the lyrics, musically... I try to be as pure as I can in interpreting the words.

"Dahl is daunting because everyone has an opinion on it," he continued. "When you talk to them about Matilda they say, 'Oh, this bit's my favourite'. Dahl is so iconic and within us all. We all grew up with him."

'Twisted, anarchic' - what the critics said

The Daily Telegraph

"Aussie comedian Tim Minchin has come up with a smashing score..."

Daily Express

"Tim Minchin, he of the back-combed hair, heavy eyeliner and anarchic streak who seems to embody a Dahl-esque spirit himself."

The Independent

"[He has] exactly the right twisted, anarchic creativity for opening up this material."

Financial Times

"[His] musical numbers will win over even those who usually have reservations about his work. Most of the songs are packed with word play..."