I’m not saying I’m obsessed with Matilda The Musical, but it’s the first show where I’ve been moved to purchase and download the album at intermission. It happened earlier this month when I saw the musical at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. And this is from someone that has already had the fortune of seeing the show on Broadway in New York and knew what she was in for, yet still felt the prickle of goosebumps throughout the performance.
I’m not the only one gushing over the show. Since premiering in 2010 at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (England), the musical has played to sold-out theatres and won countless awards, including four Tonys on Broadway. A seven-award haul at the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards, presented by the Society of London Theatre, earned the show a Guinness World Record for most awards won by a musical.
Before you read any further, two warnings. If you’re not familiar with Matilda, the beloved Roald Dahl novel the play is based on, this story contains some spoilers. Conversely, if you’re a fan of the book that knows the story inside-out or have already seen the show, throw your preconceptions into the “chokey” (the narrow cupboard used in Matilda to punish children). Writer Dennis Kelly has taken certain liberties with the plot and the resulting script is none the poorer for it. In short: prepare to fall in love with the story of Matilda anew.
The stage at the Lyric Theatre featured towers of giant alphabet and musical blocks that reached right to the ceiling. Welcome, indeed, to the world of Matilda Wormwood.
On one side of her life there’s cruel parents, Mr and Mrs Wormwood, played by Marika Aubrey and Daniel Frederiksen. On the other is Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher and something of a fairy godmother-like figure. Actress Elise McCann perfectly embraces her softly spoken character.
As someone that grew up with the novel, principal Miss Trunchbull was the character I was anticipating seeing brought to life the most. I wasn’t disappointed. Played by James Millar, (s)he is repulsive in every which way. Her behaviour towards her students is so ridiculous – she believes all children are “maggots” – that it manages to be both entertaining and sickening.
Every scene and every song in Matilda is a pleasure and a surprise. Despite having less experience than the adult ensemble, the children’s cast holds its own. Although the role of Matilda is rotated between four girls, all manage to pull the audience into her sad world. Yes, I teared up. You will too.
Perth’s Cle Morgan plays flamboyant librarian Mrs Phelps and is responsible for many of the performance’s more light-hearted moments. Morgan says she can’t wait to bring the show home to Perth.
“My favourite part is when Mr Wormwood asks Matilda if she wants to stay with Miss Honey and there’s a look on his face,” she says. “It’s the only moment he realises that he has to be a good dad and let her go. There’s this tiny bit of heartbreak and I love that character and the way that Dan (Frederiksen) plays it.”
Acting and story aside, local boy Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are Matilda The Musical’s other draw. Equal parts enchanting and revolting, Minchin’s command of rhyme and harmony is deeply entertaining and a big part of the show’s appeal. Then you’ve got all the little details – from the costumes and the use of lighting to the choreography of empty swings.
I was obsessed with Matilda The Musical after I saw it in New York. After seeing it in Brisbane, I turned into that crazy fan. All I can say is, watch out Perth.
Matilda The Musical is showing at Crown Theatre (Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood) February 28 to May 7. Tickets are available online.