In this essay I will be discussing and comparing the performance of Matilda the Musical and Matilda the Film. I will also discuss the historical and cultural context which are raised throughout the storyline. Matilda was originally a book written by British writer Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 in London, with illustrations by Quentin Blake. The novel was later made into a film named ‘Matilda’ in 1996. It was directed by Danny DeVito, who also narrated the story and Mara Wilson played Matilda. In 1990 the Redgrave Theatre produced a musical version of the book adapted by Rony Robinson, which toured the UK and received mixed reviews. However, in November 2010 a second musical version of the novel, called Matilda the Musical produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered. It opened at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End in November 2011 and has since become worldwide, opening also in America and Australia. The musical production went on to win multiple Olivier Awards in the UK and Tony Awards in the US. I saw Matilda the Musical whilst it was on tour at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, September 2018. The musical is written by Dennis Kelly and the composer and lyricist Tim Minichin. As quoted by //// “Aussie comedian Tim Minchin has come up with a smashing score with delicious lyrical wit in songs that consistently develop both the plot and our understanding of the characters.”
On the day of the performance I watched, Matilda was played by Nicola Turner and her parents, Mr and Mrs Wormwood by Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia.
Matilda follows the story of an incredibly clever little girl, Matilda Wormwood, who lives with her family who are quite the opposite. She loves reading and constantly overcomes obstacles both within her family and school. Matilda finds solace in reading. It is a way that she can block out what is happening in the world around her. As quoted by ///// “It captures all the original’s delicious nastiness, particularly in depicting Matilda’s school, Crunchem Hall (motto: “children are maggots”), run by the fearsome Miss Trunchbull, but it also celebrates the solace of books and the transforming powers of the imagination.”
Throughout her journey her imagination continues to grow revealing her telekinetic powers as well as her power to stand up against injustice. In the end she gets what she has been dreaming for, of which is having a better life in the care of her teacher, Miss Honey. Both the film and musical revolve around the same storyline. There are some small differences, of which I will discuss later in this essay. I will also be discussing the social and historical contexts within the storyline. To enable me to explore this I will discuss three main areas of which are, bullying, stereotypes and gender roles.
Although being a child friendly film and musical, Matilda presents some rather dark themes. One of the major ones being bullying. In the musical the older school children are played as adults which I felt helped portray how the younger children see the older students. In their eyes they look much bigger and scarier than they really are, therefore this gives a realistic look on it. Although the bullies in the story are primarily adults, bullying in general is a huge issue in schools today. It is important for children to understand what it feels like to be in the victim’s shoes and within the story this is portrayed across to the audience. Scenarios such as physical beating and un-nurturing environments come to mind when people think about abuse, however as shown in Matilda it can be something as simple as a gesture or a few harsh words. In this story Matilda is bullied primarily by her own parents which can sometimes be viewed as the worst kind of abuse, as having this behaviour come from a family member can make the victim feel worse. The Wormwood family lack love and affection for each other, meaning the only thing that truly makes them a family is blood. Mr Wormwood calls Matilda a boy and never refers to her by her name. In the musical, the audience laughed, considering Matilda is a girl, and that this is meant to be humorous. In both the film and the musical, when Matilda is struggling with the abuse in her life she develops her telekinetic powers. It is portrayed that her anger and frustration cause her brain to gain this power. This power can sometimes distance her from the real world and her friends. Although telekinetic powers are an extreme, unrealistic example it shows how negligence from a young age can have various kinds of negative results. As quoted by //// “The production has a razor-sharp tongue-in-cheek edge that cuts in at the slightest hint of sweetness. Yet seldom has the inner rage of the hurt and powerless child been so effectively dramatized.”
Another of the social issues raised in both the film and the musical are stereotypes. However, I feel it is more obviously shown in the musical. It is visible when the Russian mafia enters the stage, all dressed in black suits which automatically establishes them as different to everyone else in the musical. The dark appearance of the mafia even made the children in the audience become quiet. Matilda, however breaks this barrier and speaks to the leader who replies in a kind, polite manner. This is a good point put across with the issues of stereotype. It helps show that society teaches people to fear others that are either foreigners, look or sound different however, like Matilda did you should not judge someone by what you see or hear.
The question of gender roles is evident through two different female characters in Matilda, Mrs Wormwood and Miss Trunchbull. Both women have characteristics that place them on opposite sides of the gender scale, either extremely feminine or extremely masculine. Especially back in the time when Matilda was written, society expected each gender to stick within a certain list of activities, clothes and emotions. Mrs. Wormwood is a woman who is highly concerned with her appearance. Miss Trunchbull however is a very sporty, masculine woman. Mr. Wormwood, the father, is just as negligent towards Matilda as her mother is but his role as a father is not questioned as much because fathers are not viewed as the nurturer. Jesse Green from the New York Magazine praises Roald Dahl for creating a female character like Miss Trunchbull because it depicts that a woman can come in many forms. However, she said “putting her character in a bad light makes it appear that anything besides a “typical female” is not acceptable.” In the film Miss Trunchbull is played by a woman however in the musical version of the story I saw a male was playing this role which I felt put across to the audience that Trunchbull should’ve been a male in the first place, which again questions gender roles.
Throughout the story, Matilda tackles issues of family abuse, gender roles, and stereotyping. Raising these issues in a show mainly intended for children allows it to be viewed in a lighter manner. The overall light-heartedness of the musical allows these deep issues to be put across to the audience in a way that makes people want to make a change. One of Matilda’s popular lines in the show are “That’s not right” which gives indication that Matilda is a smart young girl who recognises the wrong in what is happening.
There are inevitable comparisons with the 1996 film and the musical, however there are a few small changes within the storyline. A noticeable one being, that Matilda’s ‘powers’ come into the show much later than in the film. She only performs two tricks within the show, one being the classic knocking over a glass and the other, making the chalk write on the board to scare Miss Trunchbull away. I felt that this may have helped with the cost of the show as making this look believable to the audience would have been very difficult, however the show did put across Matilda’s powers in a different, more inventive way in my opinion. Throughout the show Matilda visits the library and tells the librarian a story which she believes to be a story she has made up. It is about a trapeze artist and a tightrope walker who falls in love and eventually has a child who is abused by her very evil Auntie. We discover towards the end of the show that Matilda is in fact telling the story of Miss Honey, her teacher’s life without realising. The fact that both Matilda and Miss Honey were treated badly in their childhood suggests as to why they are both so understanding of each other and naturally have a loving relationship. Miss Trunchbull turns out to be the evil Auntie Matilda is describing in her story, therefore she is Miss Honey’s Auntie. This explains the controlling relationship that Trunchbull has over Honey. As quoted by the guardian “Miss Trunchbull, is a comic incarnation of all the brutality and beastliness that adults can inflict on children.”
In the musical version, Mrs Wormwood is ‘the ballroom-dancing Cockney queen’. Maybe as it is a musical this was a door that could be opened to allow some dancing to be involved in the production, which in my opinion was needed and came across well. All the dancing and singing within the musical I felt happened in a natural way which aided the story and personalities of the characters, for example Mr Wormwood’s song ‘Tele’ shows off his character to the audience.
In the film version of Matilda, I felt that the atmosphere of the whole film made me involved in the story. Matilda’s school was set in grounds that looked like what a school in the 1990’s would look like, bringing a sense of realism to the film. The musical in my eyes, had more of a challenge to create this atmosphere, however I felt that they did an excellent job. All the scene changes were fast and sleek and the set its self was outstanding. The big gates to the school, the books and shelves in the library and the chairs and television in the lounge all added up to making it feel like you were in those rooms. The lighting also helped create the atmosphere, for example the beams of light across the stage when Miss Trunchbull activated her ‘chokey’ was very effective.
Paul Kieve who produced all the ‘illusion’ work within the musical pulled off some incredible trickery throughout the production. One for example is when Amanda Thripp, one of the school children is spun and thrown through the air. Another, being the illusion of the chocolate cake disappearing piece by piece to create the aspect of Bruce eating it. I felt that all these illusions added to the whole performance and gave the audience an element of surprise and excitement.
In conclusion to my essay, both Matilda the film and Matilda the Musical have hidden issues that are covered which adds to the overall effect of the story. The way it very cleverly involves realistic, dark issues allows these to be put across in a light-hearted way whilst still allowing the story to be child friendly, humorous and inspiring. In my opinion both the film and musical are very well thought out and I thoroughly enjoyed watching both. I have learnt that there are differences between the film and musical even though it follows the same story and the way these differences are put across to the audience make them both special and interesting in their own way. In my opinion all the differences were positive, not negative as it showed different ways to put across the same story and still be entertaining for the audience.