I fear I’m well past the tipping point of being annoying or a stuck record about how much I love the staged musical version of Roald Dahl’s timeless story Matilda. We saw it at the RSC in Stratford last Christmas and it wowed me completely. Now it’s wowing the London theatre crowds, has already won some awards and is lined up to win many more.
We went to see it again last weekend, and if anything I enjoyed it even more. The breathtaking surprise and excitement was of course slightly changed, but the exhiliration, joy and range of emotional reactions were (if anything) even more intense. We bought the soundtrack CD, and have listened to it pretty much every day since. Even my favourite podcasts have taken second place.
It seems that my reactions to Tim Minchin’s amazing songs, combined with the memories of the performance, are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. More than any film, this show triggers emotional responses in me: I laugh at Bertie Carvel’s astonishing Miss Trunchbull, I weep on cue to the opening bars of “When I Grow Up”, I try desperately to keep up with the wordplay in “The School Song” and “The Smell of Rebellion”. This reaction (I’d go again next week if I could) has been threatening to take over. I sing the songs out loud / under my breath at work.
Right now I can’t imagine not seeing it again, and it made me think last night that I would need to rewrite my entire selection for my Desert Island Discs… But I managed to extract myself from that thorny problem. Of course, I would make Matilda my luxury; a filmed version of the live performance with the original cast. This would make my life on the island much more bearable, as it would remind me of two of the best experiences I have had with my family, of the joy and innocence and wonder and naughtiness of being a child, of the importance of nurturing and inspiring children, and of the excitement and joy I share with my children as we all sing along to and re-enact the whole drama…
I’d love to post the whole show here, but as I’m urging you to see it, I am torn in not wanting to reveal spoilers, jokes and surprises. The opening song “Miracle” satirises the attitudes of many parents towards their own ‘miracle’ children, while at the same time wholly celebrating the wondrous miracle that life and children represent. And it throws us headlong into the intricate and brilliant wordplay of Tim Minchin and Roald Dahl, which keeps coming back, and is a constant source of pleasure throughout the show…
One can hardly move for beauty and brilliance these days,
It seems that there are millions of these one-in-a-millions these days.
“Specialness” seems de rigeur,
Above-average is average, go figeur.
Is it some modern miracle of calculus that such frequent miracles
don’t render each one unmiraculous?
Matilda’s first song is at once heart-rending and joyous. Despite the (mostly comic) horrors of her family life, she is defiant and positive…
We’re told we have to do what we’re told, but surely sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty…
And then we meet The Trunchbull, English Hammer-throwing Champion (1969).
If you want to throw the hammer for your country you have to stay inside the circle all the time.
And if you want to make the team, you don’t need happiness or self-esteem,
You just need to keep your feet inside the line.
Matilda’s parents are brilliantly realised by Josie Walker and Paul Kaye, who both get their own showpiece songs. Mrs Wormwood rebuffs the timid Miss Honey’s earnest intentions about Matilda’s academic talents…
What you know matters less than the volume with which what you don’t know’s expressed.
Content has never been less important, so you have got to be
…it really doesn’t matter if you don’t know nowt, as long as you don’t know it with a bit of clout.
…while Mr Wormwood, in a terrific ‘interval announcement’, celebrates his much-loved “Telly” and rejects Matilda’s books…
Jane Austen, in the compostin’!
The heart of the musical for me is the start of the second half, with the beautiful “When I Grow Up”, whose simple melodies and gorgeous words are complemented by the children swinging across the stage and over the audience.
When I grow up I will eat sweets every day on the way to work and I will go to bed late every night.
And I will wake up when the sun comes up and I will watch cartoons until my eyes go square
And I won’t care ‘cos I’ll be all grown up.
I’ll avoid most of the rest of the second half, as the action and surprises are too important to give away. But as it all builds towards a triumphant ending, the oppressed children revolt against The Trunchbull in a riotous finale…
We’ll find out where the chalk is stored and draw rude pictures on the board!
It’s not insulting, we’re revolting!
I’ll try not to keep going on about how fabulous this show is. But I can scarcely remember having such a reaction to anything in a long, long time.