Matilda The Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, is reaching a West End milestone – 10 years on stage.
Landing in London’s Cambridge Theatre in 2011 after a brief run in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the story of Matilda Wormwood and her telekinetic powers, ignorant parents and abusive headmistress has played to more than four million people over the last decade.
Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a book written by Utopia creator Dennis Kelly and songs by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, it quickly became a hit with audiences and ended up on a national tour, on Broadway and beyond.
“I’m probably most proud of Matilda,” Minchin told Sky News at the Cambridge Theatre.
“It’s an easy thing to be proud of because I don’t have to employ false modesty because it’s not mine.
“It’s made by this huge group of incredible people and maintained by a massive group of incredible people, and it keeps sort of perpetuating good ideas and it generates hundreds of jobs.
“It’s the first theatre experience of thousands upon thousands of kids, and [Matilda’s] a feminist icon, it encourages reading and empathy, and it generates income that’s used for charity and educational outreach.
“It’s just such an amazing thing to have been a part of.”
Playwright Dennis Kelly adds that it took him a while to recognise how successful the show had been, saying: “I’ve always felt a bit like they shouldn’t be giving me awards, but they did.”
And it has won awards in droves – 99 of them, with Kelly telling Sky News its success was down to Minchin’s music.
He said: “My favourite moment in it is Quiet, when she is a little girl and suddenly sings, and I remember hearing that song and saying to Tim ‘it sounded like you made a song out of silence’.
“It was such a beautiful idea, and it’s just moments like that… that just stay with you.”
It’s hard to discuss Roald Dahl and not talk about his well-documented antisemitism – a lingering legacy that his estate had to apologise for after his death.
“I think I can say that there’s no huge moral obligation to engage with the opinions of the artist that are not represented in the art,” Minchin told Sky News of Dahl’s views.
“It’s up to an individual, whether they can separate the artist from the art. I have never had a problem doing that.
“I have a belief that you have to be a little bit mature about policing how do people feel about things.”
When asked about the impact of so-called cancel culture, Kelly added: “If you stretch it back, we could end up losing a lot of stuff and we’re the people that lose from that.
“We could end up losing a lot of culture if we strip away things from objectionable people, because a lot of artists have been really objectionable people.”
But the musical itself is full of joy, hope, comedy and music, and playing to audiences once more following the pandemic-enforced lockdown.
“It’s really lovely to come back,” actress Landi Oshinowo told Sky News.
Oshinowo, who plays the librarian in the show, says that while masks have made the theatre feel different, it does make the experience safer for everyone – especially the dozens of children in the cast.
“The other day I realised that I couldn’t see anyone laughing at a very funny bit in the show, and I almost forgot that people were supposed to be wearing masks if they wanted to.
“Safeguarding, masks, sanitising… it’s making sure that people are safe.”
Along with the rest of Dahl’s estate, Matilda The Musical has been bought by Netflix, with the streaming giant bringing a film version of the show to the big screen, featuring the likes of Lashana Lynch, Emma Thompson and Stephen Graham.
The Royal Shakespeare Company production of Matilda The Musical is booking now at the Cambridge Theatre.
Tim Minchin is also touring the UK, performing an encore run of his live show Back.