Matilda: Summary and Review
I was fortunate enough to see Matilda during my time here in London. My group consists of about twenty women and ten men, plus my supervisor and his wife. I’ll be honest, as a group of 30 college students, we stuck out amongst the youngsters of the crowd. We gathered at the Cambridge Theatre and made our way through classes of primary school kids who were chatting and flittering about and we sat down in our seats.
Matilda starts immediately at 7:30, the lights dim and the cast has made its way out to the stage, ready to begin their first number. The excitement and energy from the cast in this first number, (“Miracle”) is like a shot of espresso to jolt the audience; you know it’s going to be a good show. This number showcases parents doting lovingly on their children, contrasting Matilda’s parents.
Matilda Wormwood grows into an exceedingly avid reader and shows intelligence beyond her years, much to her parents’ dismay. They ridicule her interest in learning and punish her for it. Retaliating against her parents, she pranks them in (“Naughty”). Matilda finds solace in her local library as she tells the story of an acrobat and an escapologist who fell in love to the librarian, Mrs. Phelps. Matilda has captured the audience, both through her excellent story-telling and through the production of the musical. Already, the show has the best of both kid and adult humour, there’s plenty of jokes that the kids won’t get, but the adults will, and there’s enough slapstick humour for the kids to maintain interest. Being a kid at heart, I enjoy both.
Matilda starts her first day at school and discovers that school isn’t what she thought it was going to be in (“School Song”) and she meets Miss Honey, her teacher. Along with the other children, we’re introduced to the disciplinarian headmistress Miss Trunchbull. The troublesome relationship between Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull is introduced (“Pathetic”) and the headmistress’ demeaning thoughts towards children (“The Hammer”) but here the meanness of Miss Truchbull is sugarcoated with humour and bright lights. I’m laughing because it’s too outrageous and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Under the humour though, there’s a darker theme of cruelty.
Meanwhile, the Wormwoods have a plan to get rich by selling cheap cares for more than their value, but when that doesn’t work out right way, Mr. Wormwood takes out his frustration on Matilda, who retaliates again in (“Naughty (reprise)”). I think the important thing to note is that Matilda is a child, she’s not perfect and no one is expecting her to be. She does get a little washed out at times during the musical, but she when she gets a little naughty, pun intended, it’s likeable.
Matilda befriends classmate Lavender and learns from her about the Chokey during (“The Chokey Chant”) which Miss Truchbull uses a punishment. This scene transitions directly into the next after Matilda and Nigel are accused of pouring treacle on Miss Trunchbull’s chair. Matilda who thinks “that’s not right!” decides she’s going to help Nigel. When Miss Trunchbull asks where he is, Matilda answers that he is sleeping because he has narcolepsy. There is nothing better than hearing a young child using a large, medical term, mind you. Miss Trunchbull believes them and instead takes out her anger on Amanda, who gets swung around by her hair across the playing field. This scene was a crowd favourite.
In the mean time, Miss Honey has made it her own personal mission for Matilda to be moved up a couple grades. Miss Honey visits the Wormwoods where she meets Mrs. Wormwood and her dance partner Rudolpho, who was hilariously flamboyant, might I mention. Mrs. Wormwood shows no interest in her daughter’s education and she makes fun of Miss Honey and Matilda for their quiet intellect in (“Loud”). I found this scene to be unnecessary to the plot line, but it’s such a fun number, that I let it go. In (“This Little Girl”), Miss Honey shows her own frustration and desperation to help Matilda, but feels like there’s nothing she can do.
In the next scene, Matilda is at the library again, telling Mrs. Phelps more of her story about the acrobat and the escapologist and how the acrobat’s sister was a hammer-thrower who hated children. Sound familiar? The sister has arranged the performance, but there’s a twist! The escapologist declares the performance cancelled as the acrobat is pregnant. The acrobat’s sister gets upset because there’s no money coming in and crafts a contract binding them to perform the act or be put in prison. Matilda abruptly stops the story saying that she doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. The next day at school, a boy named Bruce Bogtrotter, has eaten a piece of Miss Trunchbull’s chocolate cake. She punishes Bruce by forcing him to eat the entire cake in front of the class (“Bruce”). Personally, I always disliked this scene in both the book and movie because I always pity him. But Bruce comes through and finishes the whole thing. But Miss Trunchbull puts him in the Chokey anyway. And that’s the end of Act 1.
Act 2 starts with Mr. Wormwood telling the crowd how wonderful television is in (“Telly”). This song was cute, but unexpected. I’m still not quite sure of the point of it, honestly. Lavender comes out and tells the audience her plan of putting a newt in Miss Trunchbull’s jug of water, breaking the fourth wall. At a playground, children sing about their futures (“When I Grow Up”).
Meanwhile, Matilda is telling Mrs. Phelps some more of her story of the acrobat and escapologist. In her story, the two are bound by their contract to perform the dangerous act, which doesn’t go well and the acrobat is fatally injured, living long enough to give birth to a daughter. Desperate, the escapologist lets the acrobat’s sister live with him. However, unknowingly, the aunt is cruel to the niece. Matilda stops her story again there because she doesn’t know how it ends. This is where the play takes on a darker tone.
As Mr. Wormwood returns from work, he is happy that he succeeded in cheating the wealthy Russians into buying worn-out cars for a large amount of money. Matilda gets upset at her father for being deceptive. He locks her in her room and Matilda continues her story. The aunt is at her cruelest and she abuses the daughter and locks her in a cellar. The parallels are obvious. The escapologist comes home early and discovers the daughter and he promises that he will always be there in (“I’m Here”). The escapologist goes after the aunt, but isn’t seen again.
The next day at school, Miss Trunchbull makes Miss Honey’s class have an extra gruelling physical education lesson. She attempts to find any kid planning on rebelling against her in (“The Smell of Rebellion”) and finds the newt Lavender put in her jug. She accuses Eric and punishes him. Matilda, who’s had enough of Miss Trunchbull’s antics, calls her out. In turn, Miss Trunchbull begins to insult her. Matilda gets mad and explains through (“Quiet”) her feelings. In this song, Matilda discovers her telekinetic powers, and to those who haven’t heard of Matilda before will probably be thrown off-guard by this. She knocks over the water jug, which causes the newt to land on Miss Trunchbull. She freaks out and leaves and the children quickly leave right after. All except for Matilda who demonstrates her ability to Miss Honey who then brings her to her home, which is really more of a shack than a house (“My House”). Miss Honey also explains her childhood to Matilda who finds similarities in her story of the acrobat and escapologist. Matilda soon realises that the stories are the same. Now things are extra interesting.
At school, Miss Trunchbull forces Miss Honey’s class to take a spelling test and any kid who misspells a word, will be sent to the Chokey. When the children succeed, Miss Trunchbull begins to make up words in hopes of their failure. When Lavender gets the word wrong, she takes her to the Chokey. In an attempt to rebel against her, the kids purposely misspell easy words; they obviously can’t all go to the Chokey at once, but Miss Trunchbull claims she has built more than one Chokey. Miss Trunchbull begins to get upset and Matilda uses her powers to convince Miss Trunchbull that the ghost of Magnus (the Escapologist) is talking to via the blackboard. The “ghost” commands that Miss Trunchbull give Miss Honey back her house and Miss Trunchbull runs away from the school for good. The kids celebrate her leaving in (“Revolting Children”) which was my favourite song that they performed. Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps relay the events that proceeded after Miss Trunchbull ran away in the library. Miss Honey’s parents’ will was found in the house and they left all their money to her. She also becomes the new headmistress.
Matilda, on the other hand, is unable to use her ability again. Feeling sad that Matilda is stuck with her unloving family, Miss Honey wants to help her. The Wormwoods rush into the library, panicking, because the Russians found out they were cheated. The Wormwoods want to leave to Spain in avoidance. Matilda doesn’t want to leave so Miss Honey offers to take care of her. But before they can arrange it, the Russian mafia arrive and Sergei, the head, is impressed by Matilda’s intelligence when she speaks to him in Russian (“This Little Girl (reprise)”). He decides not to harm the Wormwoods as long as he doesn’t have to deal with Mr. Wormwood again. Her father decides to let Matilda live with Miss Honey and the rest of the Wormwoods leave. The ending song (“When I Grow Up (reprise)”) finishes the whole musical with heart.
The thing that is quite fantastic about this play is how brilliantly put together it all is. It’s like organized chaos because there’s so much happening at once and it feels like a mess, but it all comes together at the end. The costumes depict each character accurately, the actors play their parts perfectly, the songs are a well-blended harmony of heart and fun, the lighting and sound is executed to a key along with the set serving both as a background and a work of art in itself. With that, I would highly recommend anyone of any age to go see this musical, especially if you are new to theatre.