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Sunday 31 January 2016

“When I Grow Up”: A Review of Matilda: The Musical.

Have you seen Matilda: The Musical? Thank you Lyndon for sharing this wonderful experience with our readers.

Matilda is a pretty weird book. It’s also one of children’s literatures greatest classics, with a brilliant and bold young girl taking on the world as its main character, and written by one of the all-time finest and funniest writers of fiction, Roald Dahl. I love it. But that said, it is quite weird. There is hammer throwing, torture-by-cake and a box of horrors, as well as the very strange addition of telekinesis that on every re-read you almost forget is going to be there.

But of course Matilda isn’t about controlling objects with your mind - it’s about the power of stories. Although Matilda Wormwood is squashed down by almost every adult in her life, she rises through the gifts of reading and discovering. She is raised in a library, not in a house.

These same themes play out in the musical stage production of Matilda that I had the pleasure of 
seeing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, with a book by Dennis Kelly and songs by our own lyrically-brain-bending Tim Minchin. The weirdness remains (as it should) and so does the enduring reminder that reading gives us power, as Matilda’s father’s song “Telly” tells the audience that television will provide you with “all you need to fill your muffin, without havin’ to really fink or nuffin” by “watching slightly famous people talkin’ to really famous people,” and Matilda realises in her sublime song “Naughty” that she will not become an “innocent victim” of her own story, and must stand up to the Trunchbull.

The set was an astonishing array of alphabet blocks, into which encroached libraries, loungerooms, and the dreaded “chokey” as the story played out. Everyone I saw left the theatre beaming and presumably feeling the way I did; like creativity, humour and the power of a great story would triumph over rigid discipline, and like the musical we had just seen was one of the best ever made. It adds a few features and plotlines to Dahl’s book, but all serve to enhance the story as a stage piece, and the classic Matilda is still very much in the foundations underneath. I only ever knew Roald Dahl through his work, but I can’t help but feel that he would have been immensely proud of the performance I saw. As I re-read the book to compare the two versions of the story, the songs slipped into my mind against my will, as easily and irresistibly as Bruce Bogtrotter’s first bite of forbidden chocolate cake. And upon entering my head, they sparked in me the best kind of joyful defiance: the desire to be clever in a world seemingly characterised by ignorance, and the willingness to hold on to the childish things that make me happy. The adults in Matilda have lost their wonder – but there is a simple solution offered: Never grow up.

Matilda: The Musical is in its last weeks in Sydney before it moves on to Melbourne. See it any way you can.

Lyndon Riggall is a  young writer and previous judge for the CBCA in Tasmania. You can find him at
http://lyndonriggall.com or on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

Editor's note: As a Matilda fan for many years I can't resist sharing a photo of a figurine from the Roald Dahl collection and the fact that I met the man himself at a book signing in Harrods, in London to promote the publication of the BFG - and yes, I have a signed copy :-)

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