Thursday, March 1, 2012

Matilda the Musical


Matilda; the face of a new stamp!
I told my husband last fall that I knew exactly what I wanted this year for my Christmas and birthday presents: a ticket to Matilda the Musical, which premiered on London's West End last November. And of course he came through! With five star reviews from the Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and numerous other papers, along with countless theatre awards, Matilda was selling out like crazy, so we booked two tickets for the end of February to make sure we could get them.

Matilda is my favorite Roald Dahl book. Perhaps one of my favorite books, period. I can visualize my dog-eared copy, read over and over throughout my childhood. On the way to London last Saturday, I recited some of my favorite Matilda lines to my husband (what a patient, generous man he is!).

But my joy was edged with doubt. I'd never even seen the movie version of Matilda, as I was so afraid Hollywood would mess it up. So despite my complete love for musicals, and all the positive reviews Matilda had garnered, including a ringing endorsement from one of my Bath Spa tutors, I was anxious. After all, this blog isn't called Critically Yours for nothing. And ruining a beloved childhood story would really sting.

Check out this set!
But my relief began to fade away even before the show started. As we climbed upstairs to our seats (this may have been a Christmas / birthday gift, but the tickets weren't cheap!), the walls were lined with child-centric colorful chalkboards and hand-drawn signs. I recognized several quotes from the book, like Mrs. Wormwood's timeless, "Dinners don't microwave themselves."

Then the set! Oh my. The stage was lined with letters, in a crazy, random joy, like something out of a Tim Burton movie. But the longer I looked, the more I began to see words forming: "Phenomenon," "Malice," "Acrobat," "Escape."

Matilda & Mr. Wormwood
Needless to say (since I'm clearly blogging with such happiness), the musical fulfilled all my expectations. It was wildly fun, funny, joyful, sweet, and rebellious. In many ways, it felt like the book come to life, with most of the actors looking like life-size replicas of Quentin Blake's illustrations, along with numerous lines straight out of the book. But it had been ever-so-slightly modernized (with lasers and cctv videos) and of course streamlined, but other than a slightly rushed and glossed-over beginning, it barely diverged from the text. The music was a fun addition, and I've had the lovely tune "When I Grow Up" stuck in my head for the past few days. I didn't think the music was anything unique or truly memorable. But it didn't need to be. This is a musical where story dominated everything.

Matilda tells her story to Mrs. Phelps, the librarian
Even the special effects were hardly whizz-bang, but rather in thrall to story. Matilda holds her local librarian mesmerized with her ongoing story about the Escapologist and the Acrobat, their love for each other, and desperate desire for a child. Only at the end do the Escapologist and Acrobat appear, and their finale is played out in a beautiful shadow puppet film. But even then, Matilda's words are what capture the audience. Though I have to say, for those familiar with the story, not to worry. The chalk does float all on its own in the climatic scene with Mrs. Trunchbull.

Mrs. Trunchbull dances,
with Miss Honey in background
And speaking of Mrs. Trunchbull, she (rather he; for Mrs. Trunchbull is played in drag by actor Bertie Carvel) was marvelous, a beastly headmistress, yet completely over the top and funny. The actress playing Miss Honey had a gorgeous voice, and managed to look totally awkward when I'm sure she is anything but. And Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood were hysterical. But of course, the best were the kids. What amazing amazing children. Not only Matilda, but the boy playing Bruce had my sides splitting with laughter as he danced, and the girl playing Lavender had the audience in the palm of her hand with her hilarious aside. As my husband pointed out, there wasn't a single weak link. The set, the choreography, all the actors, everything was there.

I'm not much of a cryer, but even so, I gushed tears at the curtain call. I know, the play was over! But I was so struck by the little girl playing Matilda (Eleanor Worthington Cox that night, though the role is shared amongst four girls). She stood alone on the stage and accepted her thunderous applause. How often do you see that? It was so perfect, after a story all about rebellion and girl power and standing up for yourself, to see a stage dominated by a pre-teen girl. It reminded me of being young, and all the children I have taught and continue to write for.

Then I got to thinking about how unique Matilda is in that regard. And not only Matilda, but almost all the main characters in the story are female: Mrs. Trunchbull, Miss Honey, Mrs. Wormwood, the librarian. Sure, the current children's book market is dominated by stories about girls. But I believe Matilda is Dahl's only female hero. And how many young girls have the leading role in movies? TV? Not to get too political about it, but did you see this study showing that American Sunday newscasts in the month of February (a month heavily dominated by discussions of contraception) had 52 male guests and 4 female guests? All of that is why I bawled at the curtain call.

And why I want to add my voice to the chorus of people applauding Matilda the Musical (and check out the website for more photos and music samples). Seriously, go see it! Even my husband, who has never read the book, and has no interest in children's literature (outside of all my babble about it, of course!), loved the show. And we were surrounded by adults. Plenty of kids, but even more families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, singles, couples, teenagers... it seemed people were ostensibly dragging the kids along, but they couldn't wait to see it for themselves.

It was hard to leave. Like a movie, I wanted to stay in my seat and watch the whole thing play out again. Maybe next Christmas.

And for all you Americans, I hear arrangements are in process to bring it to New York in 2013. I really think this is a show that will be around for many years to come.

In the meantime, some lovely clips from the show:




*All photos and videos are courtesy of the RSC's Matilda the Musical website

12 comments:

  1. This review made me buy a ticket - you should charge commission ;-) X

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    1. Hah! I'll consider it my public service for the week! ;)

      Do let me know when you go! I know you're going to love it!

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  2. Thanks for this review. It's great to know that they were true to Dahl's vision.

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    1. Oh, you're welcome, Anne. That's exactly how I felt. Why mess with something great? I'm glad they agreed!

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  3. It sounds extraordinary, Anne. What a perfect gift. Thanks for the review. Now I know what to put on my wish list when it comes to the States.

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    1. It WAS a perfect gift. I hope you can enjoy it next year, maybe?!

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  4. Thanks for sharing. I have fond memories of Matilda as a little girl. :)

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    1. Aw, you're welcome, from one Matilda lover to another!

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  5. New York has to wait until 2013? Our neck of the woods will probably grow weeds before this marvel makes it here.

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    1. Yep, probably. Sorry! Guess you better start planning that vacation to London! I've got a lovely spare room! ;)

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  6. Thanks to this review, I went to the musical last night and it was the best evening I've had at the theatre - and there has been plenty of competition for that accolade! Thoroughly enjoyed it, thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    1. I'm so glad you came back to share that you enjoyed Matilda! And I'm sooo pleased you enjoyed it so much! Yay!

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