Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” adapted for Broadway, made its way to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.
While the story itself is innovative and provocative, its theatrical adaptation incorporates some visual themes that further provide an understanding and appreciation for what it is like to be a young girl like Matilda.
Act 1 establishes all of the conflict and discomfort Matilda faces in her life.
Her parents dislike her so much they barely accept her as their child. Her school is militaristically regimented- so much so, in fact, the school’s motto is “Baminotomus Est Maggitum” — “Children Are Maggots.”
It seems the only friends she has are Miss Honey, her school teacher, and Mrs. Phelps, the local librarian. Through these two she is able to express her love for reading and storytelling. She is actually given material to help her develop these skills and interests behind the backs of the ruthlessly despicable Miss Trunchbull, the school principal, and Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda’s parents.
In Act 2, the timeline unfolds as Matilda begins the redemption and reconciliation of her life of learning and “what is right.” She ends up finding out Miss Honey’s life has been similar to her own. While I wish that the story were more grounded in Matilda’s adeptitude for telekinesis, it was no less wondrous and no less depictive of what a child might think up. Adorning the stage during every scene were letter blocks and simple drawings similar to what you would expect if you peered inside the mind of a child.
Around the different scenes there were clever little things like the word “soot” written in the fireplace. Different nuances like this turned the musical into something more child-like, but no less interesting.
While Matilda told her stories to her friend Mrs. Phelps, they were illustrated with the parting of background set pieces and dream-like lighting that brought the audience another step outside of themselves and into the mind of Matilda.
This article was written by Erik Gleim.