White Rock Theatre’s Summer Youth Project returned last month for the first time since 2019 with ‘Matilda the Musical Jr.’ 

Ben Cornwell watched the opening night.

I know Roald Dahl’s Matilda like the back of my hand. It is a story I spent countless nights reading as a child, and I still consider it one of his best. However, while I may be in the first quarter of my life, those days were still more than a decade ago. Watching the opening night at the White Rock Theatre on Thursday, made all those memories come flooding back.

CREDIT: Peter Mould

The preparation for the main event must have been difficult, with many of the acting classes and workshops being on Zoom and national restrictions resulting in socially distanced rehearsals. Director Ben Watson, who is returning for his fourth summer youth project, and his team should be proud of what they have produced. From the casting to the choreography and costumes, the show helped to display the incredible talent that Hastings and more specifically the White Rock Theatre summer youth group has to offer.

Matilda the Musical Jr is adapted from the full length West End musical and follows the story of an intelligent little girl who along with dealing with cruel parents captures the attention of kind teacher Miss Honey. nfortunately, for Matilda, not all teachers are like Miss Honey, as the school is ruled by the children-hating headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

The cast transitioned instantly from a group of children playing a game of ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ onstage before the show, to a collective of trained actors and dancers. From the first minute until the final curtain, the entire cast and crew worked together like a well-oiled machine to put on a brilliant show for the audience. Among the group of performers, there were several standout performances.

CREDIT: Peter Mould

Poppy Stratford impressively adopted the role of the mean Miss Trunchbull, and clearly, the audience agrees as her villainous performance was met by playful boos at the end, and was a polar opposite of the sweet Miss Honey flawlessly portrayed by Kiera Post. The special bond between Miss Honey and Matilda (played by the talented Cicely Clayton-Jones) was captured throughout. Their duet in the musical number ‘When I grow up’ highlighted the pair’s chemistry and also showcased their remarkable vocals. The Wormwood family’s comedic timing was spot on during the show, although the largest laugh of the night undoubtedly came from witnessing Luke Charlesworth’s portrayal of Mrs Wormwood’s overly flamboyant dance partner Rudolpho.

I have not had the chance to see the West End version yet. But, if their cast is any bit as talented as this local theatre group, I will be bumping Matilda up to the top of my wish list.

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