Celebrating Matilda this Roald Dahl Story Day
Every September, a very special author is celebrated. That author is Roald Dahl. He is the literary magician who introduced children across the world to characters that remain unforgettable for all the years that follow them.
Dahl writes for the dreamers; the people who may be young in experience but larger than life in imagination, those who see the world with fresh eyes and open minds and have no fear that their subsequent experiences will dull the vibrant excitement of adventure that is promised.
As we get older, we look at Dahl’s stories with nostalgia and in those moments, we remember how we vowed to never become those -usually - adult characters at whom we grimaced at and sneered toward their bitterness.
Close your eyes for just a moment and think about those characters that spring to mind.
The Twits? “A hideous, vindictive, spiteful couple…” hidden away from the rest of the world, resorting to hurting the only person they allow close. James’ cruel aunts? Quick to anger, and slow to care. The Grand High Witch? A life of prejudice leaving her evil beyond mercy toward those who are different to her kind.
A writer of hyperbole and superlative, Dahl’s tales serve as cautionary tales and encouragement of confident dreaming. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we see spoilt children and their greedy parents served their comeuppance by a genius chocolatier hungry for trouble and with a distaste toward ugliness. Meanwhile, the needful Charlie Bucket inherits his legacy in reward for his careful consideration and gratitude.
Dahl favours the underdog. He gives a voice to the reader with wild thoughts in their mind and opens up the floodgate to a world of possibility. The people who are made to feel ordinary, are those with extraordinary power.
The most beloved of Dahl’s underdogs is perhaps Matilda Wormwood. A young girl born into a family of narcissistic crooks, that do not recognise nor nurture her inquisitive intelligence. Instead, they leave her lonely and unloved, dreaming of attending school and finding a home where stories are read, and imagination encouraged.
As the story so famously goes, Matilda develops a bond with her teacher, the delightful and hopeful Miss Honey. Together, they form an alliance against the former Olympic hammer-thrower, and child hating headmistress, Agatha Trunchball. A gigantic terror, a fiercely monster, a snarling bully.
When nourished, Matilda’s magnificent mind develops supernatural abilities to move items and her new-found friendships give her the confidence to take her mischief to a whole new level. For the greater good, mind.
Matilda was adapted into a musical in 2010 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. Opening in Stratford-Upon-Avon, a town that is hailed for its literary history, before transferring to the West End the following year. The musical has since been adored by audiences around the world including Broadway and Australia.
Deliciously gluttonous, the musical is a feast for the imagination with oversized props, garish bright colours and witty wordplay that bounce around your bones long after the curtains close. The sickly sweetness of the children whose parents feed them compliments vs the wry dry heartedness of the self-obsessed Wormwoods, ride the ups and downs of situational fortune and magnify the stark realities of loneliness.
The terror of Trunchball packs just the right punch with impressive effects that recreate the iconic scenes of the cult movie adaptation; causing little girls to touch their pigtails in fear before cheering for our heroic Bruce Bogtrotter’s defeat of cook’s chocolate cake.
Minchin’s lyrics jump from heart-warming and wistful, to venomously vexatious, all with music that crooks in your subconscious and sets up camp for the foreseeable. ‘When I Grow Up’ has children reciting their dreams for adulthood in wide-eyed lullaby. Whilst ‘School Song’ is a marching command order summoning wordplay wizardry with fast-paced stomping through the alphabet. If you have not seen the choreography to that one, it’s worth a ticket in itself.
This, all amidst the stifled giggles of good old British humour repetitive references to children as maggots and descriptions of vile stenches, alongside the clumsy visual effects of brain rot as a result of too much telly. Terrific tongue twisters and fast footed flaunting go hand in hand as this musical races through a story of hope and vengeance.
Every time an adult shoots a child a backhand down, they respond with rhymes wise beyond their years and a sharp linking of an arm in solidarity.
Proving that, contrary to Miss Trunchball's belief, revolt is the only kind of revolt in kids.
As our hero, Matilda consistently tells us; “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” Telling us stories of those who weren’t brave enough to rewrite their endings – Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Jill, she rightly reminds us “just because you’re little you can do a lot.” The tale teaches us about justice, of being unapologetically yourself and of protest and rebellion. Oh, and to be playful at the same time.
Matilda does a fantastic job of reminding audience members, little and large, young and old that you are in control of your own narrative. She helps you to reclaim that power; for it is the only power you have, and the only one you really need.