The most fearsome shot putter in theatre is thundering to Wearside next week.
Mighty Miss Trunchbull will be presiding over Sunderland Empire with an iron fist in hit musical Matilda, which will enjoy its North East debut with a month-long run from May 8.
Far from hoying people into The Chokey, the man who brings Miss Trunchbull to life each night on tour is the charming Craige Els.
He’s more than used to stepping into the steel toe-capped boots of the Trunchbull after towering over audiences for three years in the West End show, which continues its run at the Cambridge Theatre.
This is the first UK tour of the musical, inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved book, and Craige says it’s great to be hitting the road with the show.
He said: “We’re currently at our second venue and it’s had a fantastic response. We’ve always had a great reaction in the West End, but it’s great to see how local audiences, who perhaps haven’t seen it in London, respond to the show.”
Regional audiences can expect a West End level version of the award-winning Royal Shakespeare Production, which is written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.
The team behind the musical worked closely with the Roald Dahl Estate for the theatrical version of the children’s classic, which was first published in 1988.
Craige explained: “The show hasn’t been compromised at all for the tour, it’s the same show, the only thing that’s different is that the school desks come out of the wings, instead of up from the floor.”
For his role, Craige has got his transformation into Trunchbull down to half an hour in make-up, warts and all.
He said: “Roald Dahl wrote these fantastic characters for us to draw from and once I have the make up on and the wig on, it’s such a treat to go out there as Miss Trunchbull. She’s so wicked and she gets such a reaction from the crowd, it’s great fun and a wonderful opportunity to play someone so grotesque.
“For people who haven’t seen it before, I think they get a shock that she’s played by a man, but she always has been. I’m not sure why, but maybe for the size and the contrast with the kids.”
Craige is joined on the tour by Carly Thoms as Miss Honey, and Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill as Mr and Mrs Wormwood, while the title role is shared by Annalise Bradbury, Lara Cohen, Poppy Jones and Nicola Turner.
Three teams of talented child actors, which rotate each night, also play the roles of Bruce, Lavender, Amanda and the rest of the pupils at Crunchem Hall.
“All the kids in the show work so hard,” said Craige. “There’s some really tricky dialogue, especially from the Matildas who have to speak Russian at one point. I don’t think the audience can believe it when she does.
“She’s such a fantastic role model for little girls, this intelligent child who outwits the adults. You see all the children at the stage door wanting to meet her and you can see how inspired they are by these brilliantly-drawn characters.”
In keeping with Matilda’s love of books, the production is accompanied on each date of the tour by Change My Story, a new education programme inspired by the musical which will engage young people in towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.
From a travelling library of stories led by Mrs Phelps, to whole school takeovers of Matilda, the RSC aims to reach over 15,000 children, in collaboration with touring theatre partners.
Matilda The Musical was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and premiered at the RSC’s The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2010, before transferring to London’s West End in October 2011, where it opened to rave reviews.
Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, said: “We are thrilled our home-grown miracle, which started life after a seven year gestation in Stratford-upon-Avon, has grown into a bit of a global phenomenon. Following Matilda’s successful run on Broadway, our current tours around North America, Australia and New Zealand, and continuing at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End, it is fantastic that we can share Matilda with audiences around the UK and in Ireland.”
•Matilda the Musical is at Sunderland Empire from May 8 until June 2. Tickets from Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871
3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland