Tim Minchin, the Australian wunderkind, wrote the words and music to Matilda, for an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, with a script by Dennis Kelly. The RSC produced a trial run at Stratford, and it transferred to the West End in 2011, where it remains the hottest ticket in town, along with The Book of Mormon.
I didn’t grow up with any Roald Dahl at all. I was first introduced to him when, as a young adult, I was asked to read aloud to a couple of children I was babysitting. They were in hysterics, captivated, as was I, with every comical turn of phrase, and every crazy character turning Roald Dahl’s version of the Red Riding Hood story upside down. His twisted fairytales and revolting rhymes had us all in stitches.
So it is no surprise that ‘words’ and ‘books’ form a major part in the design of Matilda, The Musical. Massive letters of the alphabet dominate the stage, carried out into the theatre, across the fourth wall. It’s a breathtaking design that makes you feel that you are seeing something fresh and important, which is quite an achievement in a theatre world which features so many mechanical marvels.
Matilda is pure theatre and Rob Howell’s design won him an Olivier Award. It was one of seven that the show won at the 2012 awards night which included Best New Musical (Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly), Best Director (Matthew Warchus), Best Actor in a Musical (Bertie Carvel), Best Choreographer (Peter Darling), Best Sound Design (Simon Baker) and a Best Actress Award for all four of the young Matildas. The fact that it was a record for any show to have won so many awards in the Olivier’s long thirty six year history says it all. Matilda is simply marvelous!
I saw a friend before the show. He said that he’d just been told by someone to, “keep your expectations in check, for fear of being disappointed.” Another member of my party piped up, “No. It’s that good. What you’re going to see is wonderful. And whatever you have in your head, it’s going to be different, and better!”
Roald Dahl passed on to the world a gem called Matilda. Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly, with the patronage of the RSC, has taken up the baton, and infused it with music, and given it a new life, full of theatrical zing in a world played out in three dimensions.
In many ways, Matilda is a fable, a fairtale, but that makes it sound old fashioned, and it most certainly isn’t. You feel like you are watching something fresh, and bold, with messages that reverberate beyond the four walls of the theatre and far beyond. And the marvel is that it appeals to all ages.
You quickly realize that the children, and there are many in this show, dominate most of the scenes. The slick and inventive choreography by Peter Darling attacked with precision by each one of them is infectious and wonderful to watch.
Ingrid Torelli, as Matilda, epitomizes the unloved child, misunderstood by a world that is loud, and parents who would rather she didn’t show them up to be the narcissistic, self-serving, ignorant, lying individuals they really are, by simply being intelligent. Matilda’s steely determination and positive spirit speaks to us all and Ingrid carries the show with the confidence of a veteran five times her age. It is odious to mention one child over another, when they worked together with such precision and energy, but Daniel Stow was a stand out to me.
James Millar has big shoes to fill as Miss Trunchbull, the sadistic school mistress determined to teach Matilda, and every child she comes into contact with, just how worthless they really are. This is a starring role with all the associated opportunities. James Millar doesn’t milk these opportunities so much as he breathes mischief, and dread, into them; accomplishing a characterization beautifully performed and larger than life. It’s a treat to watch.
Elise Mc Cann as Miss Honey, the only adult willing and able to nurture Matilda, is as charming and thoughtful as her name suggests. Towards the end of the show when Matilda hugs Miss Honey, and she hugs her back, it is genuinely touching.
It is hard to explain what sort of a show Matilda is. It is at times a dark comedy, at other times a pantomime. The song styles vary from Music Theatre to Opera, from drama to pastiche. What is not hard to explain is why this show is such a success. The themes are universal, good versus evil. Every element is honed and crafted, from the music to the set design, the lighting, the direction and performances.
At the conclusion of the opening night performance at the glorious Princess Theatre, the audience not only stood to applaud but some even punched the air with excitement . I walked out of the theatre into a troubled world with a spring in my step, and the reminder that sometimes good does prevail, smart is better than loud, laughter is a tonic, kindness and perseverance pays…. and being a little bit naughty is a must!