Behind the scenes at Matilda The Musical
Pendle Harte meets the cast of the iconic Roald Dahl show, Matilda The Musical
Even as an adult, I’m excited to meet the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical. The show has been playing in the West End since 2011 and its unforgettable songs are played on repeat in countless households. There’s hardly been an empty seat in the house since it opened, and now a new film is attracting even more fans – because it’s a timeless show that people of all ages return to again and again for its anarchic spirit and unique style.
Clearly, the show has a special energy behind the scenes as well. A new cast change brings Rakesh Boury and Amy Ellen Richardson to the roles of Mr and Mrs Wormwood, and they were both fans before they’d been cast. “I saw the original at Stratford and I remember thinking, there’s nothing else like this. I laughed, I cried,” says Richardson. We’re in the theatre’s Circle Bar in the afternoon, where tables are already set up for the children’s supper later. For them it’s a tight schedule – they spend the day at school, then rush to the theatre for the evening performance. “It’s a well-oiled machine,” says Boury.
There are currently three teams of children who perform in turns, and Boury and Richardson are blown away by their talent. “They’re so unbelievably good,” says Boury, who has four-year-old twin daughters who are deep into their Matilda fan phase. Richardson has been acting since she was 10, so seeing the children on stage reflects her own life. “What an experience it is for them,” she says. “And they’re so good that they make you up your game.”
For a long-running show, it’s unusual to have so many of the original team still involved, but Matilda The Musical is very much a passion project for pretty much everybody. Writer Dennis Kelly, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, musical director Laurie Perkins and choreographer Peter Darling have all been hands-on since the beginning, and the show adapts to each new wave of actors. “We were encouraged to bring our own interpretations to the roles,” says Richardson. “We do feel that they’re our roles, which is great when you’re taking on an existing role,” says Boury. “The team genuinely wanted us to find our own versions, which is great – I’ve done shows where they insist on you doing everything a certain way. But every Wormwood there’s ever been has been their own.”
Plainly, they both love the show and feel lucky to be part of it. “We’ve done 140 shows but we still feel like the new cast,” says Boury. And the energy comes from the audience too. “When I finish work, 1200 people applaud me. That feeling can keep you going. Just this week there was a 40-year-old man in a Matilda The Musical t-shirt standing up at the end, bawling his eyes out. It’s the power of the arts, isn’t it.” He’s right – this show stays with everyone it touches. Long may it continue.