Much too good for children

This week (or perhaps earlier, but it was in the Evening Standard this week…) the RSC announced the three girls cast as Matilda in its musical adapatation of the show, due to open in November.

Yup, the very same Roald Dhal classic will be making its way to the big stage, jazz hands and all (N.B. The jazz hands are, as of yet, unconfirmed. I can’t see them being something Miss Trunchball would condone (to say the least)).

I have to admit, when I first heard about the production a couple of months ago I was a little skeptical about how well one of my favourite childhood titles could work on stage. My fears probably weren’t help by RSC’s disappointing adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (2007). Another of my favourite childhood (or more like young teen) books, Blackman’s modern day Romeo & Juliet had so much potential to be a gripping, emotive piece of drama. Instead it fell flat; it just felt as though the production team had been too nervous to deter from Blackman’s original words too much. And although the original text is wonderful – the line ‘time dragged by like it was pulling a whale behind it’ was, and still is, one of my favourite novel sentences’* – it just felt as though we were having the story narrated to us. There was nothing new, or different, about the show that justified it being translated from page to stage.

Admittedly I can see where the complications may have arisen. Not only is the original text very well written and adored by many, presumably, making one uncertain about what can and should be changed, but there are a lot of internal monologues that – naturally – it is hard to translate to a production that is suppose to engage a younger – as well as older – audience. The wide range of audience ages presented other problems too – such as having to make parts such as The Sex Scene PG. While I can understand this necessity, having it (in inexplicit detail) narrated to us made one of the climaxes (double entendre unintentional) of the book a bit of a damp squib (that one was).  Surely they could have hinted at the event with a kiss, cuddle, and black out? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of Fourth Wall breaking at the right time, but this wasn’t it.

In short, we left feeling somewhat disappointed by the production.

But back to Matilda. Because despite having had some reservations due to the aforementioned bad experience, recently I’ve been getting a lot more excited about the production. In fact, I have quite high hopes for it (though wouldn’t want to be the production team responsible for realising thousands of children’s and adult’s high hopes on stage!).

That said, I think Matilda has a lot more going than Blackman’s book when it comes to adapting for stage, especially for a younger audience. Firstly there is – I think – more action on a page-by-page basis to work with and stage than in Noughts and Crosses (which is, by the way, a reflection on the ways the texts are written rather than a criticism of either. I love both for different reasons!). Secondly, they’ve chosen to write it as a musical. Structurally that means it has to differ from the book, and that’s fine because people (I assume) don’t go to musicals expecting it to be a word-for-word translation of the original text. I mean, you probably could do that but you’d end up with a) a very long show, and b) some odd-sounding songs!

Thirdly, Tim Minchin is responsible for the lyrics and music. Yes, that very same long-haired, oft bare-footed, absolutely hilarious Australian who sings about canvas bags, fat teens and wanting to sleep with Jonathan Ross’s wife (and that’s a PC/G list).

Presumably (almost certainly) Minchin’s lyrics for Matilda will be more child-orientated (while the Canvas Bag song isn’t exactly offensive or inappropriate, I’m not sure my six-year-old cousin would ‘get it’.) But I’m still intrigued as to what they’ll hold for us. Perhaps some Disney-esque dual meanings? And some good laughs, child-friendly or otherwise. But Tim Minchin is about more than just generating giggles – check out these fascinating videos of him and Dennis Kelly, the writer of the book, about the creative process. And in a couple of videos there’s a sneaky peak at lyrics for one of the songs behind them! Alternatively, you can learn about the recent workshops of the production.

In fact, I’m quite excited to find out. And while I may not be able to afford to join the hoards of ten-year-olds to see it in the theatre, I’ll be looking out for clips on YouTube and the inevitable Strictly Come Dancing results show performance with anticipation.

Either way, it sounds like they’ll do Roald proud!

Catch Matilda: A Musical at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 9 November 2010 – 30 January 2011. Tickets start from £14, and can be booked here.

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About Amy

22-year-old aspiring publisher/bestselling writer/wooden bookshop owner (like the one in Notting Hill). Beyond books, I like travelling, kickboxing, Sex and the City, the theatre (plays and musicals), chocolate and wine (often together), taking photographs (they're not good enough to classify this as 'photography' - though I also like looking at other people's), Flight of the Conchords, owning pretty dresses, and posters of vintage book covers.
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