“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus didn’t particularly enjoy school until he got to university, and that’s when he discovered what he wanted to do with his life.
“I got to university and I was allowed to use my imagination — I studied music and drama — and I realized that it was a whole career you could have which revolved around using your imagination which is essentially what directing is — writing, performing all of those things,” he said. “It’s lovely to realize at some point in your life that your imagination can be your job. I think that imagination is powerful for everybody. It’s the thing that changes worlds and societies and relationships for the better potentially.”
Based on Dennis Kelly’s stage musical, Netflix’s latest iteration of the beloved Roald Dahl book and story stars Alisha Weir in the titular role of Matilda, Lashana Lynch as sweet teacher Miss Honey and Emma Thompson as quite a prosthetically transformed Trunchbull. Weir used her imagination to step into the role of Matilda.
“When I went to play Matilda, I took myself completely out of my shoes and left myself behind and went into Matilda, so I tried to pretend I was going through the same emotions that Matilda was,” she said. “I just love how she is put into a life where she kind of has to stand on her own, and her way to life is reading — how she says in the movie ‘It’s like a holiday in her head.’ I just really enjoyed putting myself into a completely different characters’ shoes.”
Warchus emphasized the more modern context of this story expands beyond the main character’s love of books.
“The book is very much about books and Matilda reads a lot of books. So we continued that idea, but [Kelly] added this idea that it’s actually about stories, what’s contained within a book is a story and that’s the important thing and that’s where the imagination comes into play,” he said. “It’s a small distinction, but in this film it’s more about the power of stories and the transformative power of stories, and of course we can get stories in lots of different places now — TV, film, radio, through music, books — but I think books are still very, very special, very very important, and I love that young people who perhaps have less opportunity to read now than ever before — I love it that they see a character that they can look up to, a hero, who loves reading so much and loves going to those different worlds that you find inside books.”
Weir’s favorite numbers to perform included “Naughty,” in which Matilda struts through her lackluster parents’ house causing mischief at every turn and “Quiet,” a more contemplative song.
“When you’re watching it I think it brings you through a lot of different emotions, cause at the start she’s just trying to get her thoughts out and trying to understand them, but then when she goes up into the hot air balloons, you’re feeling how she feels,” Weir said.
Ultimately, Weir hopes that the audience takes away how to be courageous like Matilda. Warchus echoes this sentiment.
“I do find it an inspiring story. The name Matilda means ‘Mighty in Battle,’ and I think of her as being a very courageous character despite her size and despite her age. She’s the hero of the story and a superhero at that,” he said.
“Matilda the Musical” is now streaming on Netflix.