For those of you who spent much of your childhood at great distance from both books and television screens, Matilda the movie was a 90s classic adapted from the written work of Roald Dahl. As with the original literature and adapted film, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, a gifted girl forced to put up with dim and distant parents. And her school life plays out just as bad as that at home owing to bully-come-principal, Agatha Trunchbull. However, when Matilda discovers her own powers of telekinesis, she begins to defend her mates from Trunchbull’s wrath and fight back against her unbelievably crap parents; a musical journey that brings with it both laughter and induced feelings of underdog support.
The show, which now runs at the Cambridge Theatre, asks for a degree more than your support of Matilda in her daily struggles; it triggers questions in your own mind which you’re forced to answer. On watching the opening scenes you’re left trying to figure out how kids so young can be so talented. The display from the younger legs of the cast will trouble your mind in the best of ways. The kind of singing of and acting skills that’ll have you dedicating children you don’t yet have to early drama class involvement.
Looking outside of its youth representation, the cast is diverse. This not only gives the show an extremely amusing edge – here’s Agatha Trunchbull, played as a man, bullying as she does – but also makes for a pleasant watch, with older cast members injecting tongue-in-cheek subtle adult humour to an otherwise PG display: “where’s his ‘thingy’,” said as Matilda’s dad mistakes his new born baby girl for a boy, is perhaps the perfect point of example.
Celebrated as a children’s favourite, the musical flirts with real ideas that relate to adult life. From songs centred around controlling your own destiny to musical numbers that look at the fairness of life, the apparent kids musical packages pockets of wisdom in song: “just because life isn’t fair doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it” seems quite profound when you’re off the red wine. So profound in fact that your mind wanders out of the room, jogging back to that time your boss was a prick to you, encouraging a mild uprising within – at least until the show reaches its end.
The wisdom comes hidden behind humour too, or rather, in the unpicking of Matilda’s motivations to do some of the things that bring us laughter. Think Matilda glueing her dad’s hat on his head to impact his rogue car sales deal. Or of course, the green hair dye incident involving the aforementioned parties. The understanding of what is right and wrong underpins much of what happens in the show; it guides the lyrics to many of the songs the cast perform on the main stage.
Although the main point of action for musical numbers, the stage doesn’t enjoy all the screen time, with balconies and aisles enjoying fair use. But when it does, it is appropriately dressed. At open it’s littered with centralised building blocks that read ‘Matilda’. Thereafter, the backgrounds are interchangeable; from library style book stacks that pay lip service to Matilda’s love for literature, and a climbing frame to facilitate a dance routine, the depicted environment changes are smooth. And the use of swings, exciting.
As I hit the exit door I hear a kid ask his mum if Agatha Trunchbull “really swung that girl by her hair” (it was a hidden chord in her jacket, of course). Meanwhile, I’m humming the sounds of a song whose message details “nobody else is going to change my story”. Again, I’m almost positive it’s the wine, but it appears to have hit a little deep, boosting my life focus for a short time. The kid behind me is just happy the girl wasn’t hurt for our entertainment. And I’m happy to have seen and taken in the lessons from the musical for reasons entirely different. I think that’s the main beauty of it all.