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The first ever UK tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company's multi award-winning musical.
Matilda is an extraordinary child, but her parents think she’s a nuisance. When they’re not glued to the television set, her mum practises ballroom dancing and her dad gloats about his latest dodgy business deal. Life at school isn’t much better for Matilda either. Then, one day, she discovers that she’s got very special powers and decides it's high time the grown-ups were taught a much-needed lesson...
Adapted from one of Roald Dahl’s best-loved books, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) stage-musical version of Matilda - complete with music and lyrics by comedian Tim Minchin - has been delighting West End audiences for six years.
A staggering 6.5 million people worldwide have so far seen productions of the critically acclaimed show, which has visited more than 50 cities and bagged an impressive 85 international awards, including 16 for best musical.
“We’re thrilled that our home-grown miracle has grown into a bit of a global phenomenon,” says RSC Executive Director Catherine Mallyon. “It’s fantastic that we can now share Matilda with audiences around the UK and in Ireland. In collaboration with our UK touring partners, we will also deliver a programme of groundbreaking interactive education projects, to enable young people around the country to emulate Matilda, sharing the extraordinary power of storytelling and the boundless creativity of their imaginations.”
Almost seven years after its celebrated debut at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Matilda: The Musical has evolved into an international phenomenon, holding the joint record for the most Olivier Awards ever won by a single production. Yet remarkably, despite multiple performances overseas, the show has never toured its home country - until now.
In the West End, the show continues to draw excited crowds of kids and grown-ups alike, but next year, families and Roald Dahl fans across the country will have the chance to experience its magic for the very first time. Ahead of its arrival at Birmingham Hippodrome in July 2018, we asked playwright Dennis Kelly and executive producer André Ptaszynski to explain why Matilda has been such a roaring success.
“We all love things that are dark and funny and which really make you feel something, and Matilda has all of those things,” says Ptaszynski. “I think Dahl, Tim (Minchin, composer & lyricist) and Dennis all come from a very similar comic-dramatic world. There's a darkness and a sharpness to the material that we all recognise.”
“For me,” says Kelly, “I think it's mostly the music. The songs are consistently brilliant throughout. Way back in the mists of time, before Tim was on board, they asked me whether I'd be interested in writing lyrics. I thought I'd give it a go, but if they were rubbish, I didn't want to do it because I really wanted this show to work. So when he came along, initially I still had this residual feeling that I might have been able to do it, but as soon as I saw what he was writing, I knew it was way better than anything I could have done!”
For all this emphasis on his collaborator's work, Kelly's own contributions have been equally as vital, from creating brand new characters like Mrs Wormwood's ballroom dancing partner Rodolpho (a favourite with Roald Dahl's widow, Felicity), to a whole new plot strand based around a story that Matilda tells to the librarian, Mrs Phelps.
“In the West End,” says Ptaszynski, “there are just piles of dead musicals with great scores that have failed because of the script, yet this guy who claims to know nothing about musicals comes in and realises immediately that it needed more than just the linear narrative of the book to turn Matilda into the show it is.”
Of course, it helped to be taking cues from an undisputed master storyteller...
“I never really had to think about what Dahl's voice was or anything like that because it's so ingrained in you as a kid,” says Kelly. “At the time, I didn't really know Matilda. I'd read other Dahl books, but I'm a bit older than the generation that grew up with Matilda, so it wasn't until I was already working on the script in a café one day that I realised how much it means to people. I remember the waiter asked me what I was writing, and when I told him, he just went mental! He started quoting from it and telling me how it was his favourite book and how it had inspired him. In that moment, I suddenly thought, 'Why did I agree to this?!' But you can't write with too much of a sense of responsibility because that's not what Dahl's doing. He's writing with relish about burps and mud and all of that, which to me feels very free, so I didn't want to be a slave to it.”
Completing the creative trio at the heart of the show's success is director Matthew Warchus.
“As a director, Matthew seems to be obsessed with putting a piece of theatrical magic in every scene,” says Ptaszynski, “whether it's the dummy falling from the roof or the swings or the school gates.”
“One of the parts I really love is Bruce Bogtrotter's burp,” adds Kelly, “because it's just pure theatre. It's basically just a light moving around the stage, but people are enthralled. In Stratford, we had discussions about things like a balloon blowing up or those guys that blow smoke into bubbles, but in the end, we couldn't do any of that crazy stuff because of the thrust stage. An illusion relies on everyone looking the same way, and if you can see round the back, it's not gonna work. In the end, I think that gave it a slightly homemade feel, which fits in well with the Dahl story. Even though we could have done more in the West End, I like that the original RSC show is still running through the production even now.”
Matilda: The Musical shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 3 July – Saturday 8 September 2018
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