CRAIGE Els has spent the last four years of his life terrorising youngsters dressed as a woman - and he’s loved every minute of it!

Now Craige gets the chance to bring his alter ego, Miss Trunchbull, to Manchester as Matilda the Musical takes over the city for 10 weeks.

Based on the Roald Dahl story about a bright little girl who loves reading and her battles with both her parents and a domineering head teacher - Miss Trunchbull - Matilda the Musical has been a major hit in the West End and now the production from the Royal Shakespeare Company is heading out around the country for its first national tour.

Liverpool born Craige, 40, played Trunch as he affectionately calls her for three years in the West End and jumped at the chance to return for the tour.

“I’m very grateful to Trunch,” he said. “As actors we are always grateful whenever we get a job because we know what the business is like but this one is a very special role; it’s one of those parts which doesn’t come around very often.

“You get to transform and become so grotesque and play such a well-known villain. But also you are part of a show that is so perfectly constructed and so beautifully delivered night after night. It’s hard to walk away from something that’s so special.”

Craige, who has also starred in musicals including Mamma Mia! and Spamalot, is delighted that Matilda is coming to his native North West.

“As an actor a lot of your work is in London so when a tour goes anywhere near home, that’s brilliant,” he said. “And to get 10 weeks in Manchester is amazing. I love the city, it’s not far for me to go home to Liverpool and see my nan - it’s a rare chance to actually put down some roots for a while.”

Matilda is one of Roald Dahl’s most popular books and Craige believes that the musical has perfectly captured the book’s spirit.

“I think what Roald Dahl got so right in his stories is that kids like to be scared, they really like the boundaries to be pushed a little bit and they like to be challenged and go to those darker places,” he said. “With Tim Minchin’s music and Dennis Kelly’s script they have got that perfectly. They have captured those Dahlian elements and come up with music and script that stays true to the original story.”

Craige described Trunch as being ‘horrible’.

“Oh, she’s horrendous,” he laughed. “She’s a cross between Richard III and Lady Macbeth.”

Being a man playing a woman, he’s been very keen to not portray the Trunch as some kind of demented pantomime dame.

“Part of the challenge and part of the joy of playing her is that she is so malevolent and so dark,” he said. “Having had the good fortune to play her for so long, I’ve been able to work on that and ensure that we never veer towards the panto-esque or ever send her up.

“She’s an out-and-out villain and perhaps slightly crazy and deadly serious. It just wouldn’t work if you tried to play her for laughs.”

Working alongside some hugely experienced West End performers in the tour are a changing ensemble of youngsters who play Matilda and her schoolmates.

“They are really the light to the Trunch’s dark,” said Craige.

Because of their age, the 21 young actors can’t be in the show for long runs which means that there are several cast changes during the run.

“Normally a cast change comes at a time when the adult cast may be getting a little tired,” he said. “Then you get 21 or so new little energies in the room who remind you it is in fact the best job in the world. They do rejuvenate you – it’s brilliant.”

On stage Craige may terrorise the youngsters but it’ a different story off stage.

“I can’t live with Trunch 24 hours a day, I think I’d go crackers,” he said. “One of my favourite things is making sure I have a great relationship with the kids off stage and as Craige I get the chance to encourage them, support them and cheer them on then when I’m on stage as Trunch, I find that brings out the best in them.”

Part of his transformation from Craige to Trunch involves putting on the severe looking, padded costume.

“When first put it on, it felt huge and took some getting used to,” he said. “But now I’ve put it on so many time it is like putting on an old pair of slippers - although it’s a sweaty pair of slippers by now!”

It’s a testament to the popularity of Roald Dahl that Matilda is attracting audiences of all ages.

“The thing about Roald Dahl was that he just wrote brilliant books that were so dark and so funny with such memorable characters,” said Craige. “That’s the beauty of the show - it’s got a universal appeal.”

Matilda the Musical, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, September 18 to Saturday, September 24. Details from 0844 871 3019 or