‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’ review: A canorous adaptation of a remarkable children’s classic

Alisha Weir steals the spotlight as Matilda in this grand celebration of children, their wonder, grit, and hope for a better tomorrow

Updated - January 04, 2023 02:33 pm IST

Published - January 04, 2023 01:28 pm IST

A still from ‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’

A still from ‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

Roald Dahl’s protagonists are almost always on the precipice of greatness, even when they are bogged down by cruel adults and situations out of their control. They wage a war against inequality and encourage every child to celebrate their dreams and, in turn, themselves. Matilda is another Roald Dahl classic about children waging a revolt against the unjust.

Born to Mr. Wormwood (Stephen Graham) and Mrs. Wormwood (Andrea Riseborough), two boisterous parents who forget to send their child to school, Matilda (Alisha Weir), a skilled storyteller, takes pleasure in reading classics like Moby Dick and does not mind being naughty to teach bullies a lesson.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Alisha Weir, Emma Thompson, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Lyshana Lynch
Duration: 117 minutes
Storyline: An adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination, dares to take a stand to change her story with miraculous results.

After an inspection by the state authorities, the Wormwoods are forced to send Matilda to Crunchem Hall Primary school whose motto is ‘Bambinatum est magitum’ (children are maggots), run by the taut Olympian Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), who has a panaché for rules and disgust for anyone who claims to be an exception to them.

Matilda finds a friend in her class teacher, Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), a kind-hearted lady who upon recognising that Matilda is a child prodigy promises to give her access to advanced books and lessons — something the headmistress frowns upon.

As Matilda acclimatises to school life, she becomes a subject of and a witness to bullying by the headmistress. Sometimes she objects to girls wearing pigtails while other times she forces a kid to eat a two-tier chocolate cake because he stole a piece. She is the personification of evil that hasn’t been challenged till now. But Matilda does not let this slide because, as she breaks into a song, she let’s us know that she believes that:

“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it

Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.

If you always take it on the chin and wear it,

Nothing will change.

Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you

Mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you.”

She becomes the first person to say “no” to the headmistress — she challenges, refutes and argues the reasons the children are put through corporal punishment to the pleasure of her classmates and the agony of the Olympian.

The musical numbers complimented by the choreography are a treat to the senses and the sets work as a grand ode to the imagination of Roald Dahl. Emma Thompson is unbelievably convincing as the heartless headmistress and Alisha Weir steals the spotlight as the telekinetic angry young girl unearthing secrets of years gone by.

The reboot, apart from endowing some telepathic powers to Matilda, has stuck to the original work and sees it through with great reverence towards the fantastical elements.

Matilda is a celebration of children — their wonder, grit, and hope for a better tomorrow. It urges the children to take charge and strive to script a life of their own as per their choice. It does not make light of their personalities by restricting them to caricatures and gives enough space to breathe, a pattern that can be found in all of Dahl’s books.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is currently streaming on Netflix

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