When I read that Matilda was opening on Broadway, I knew I wanted to take my ten-year-old granddaughter, Ella, to see it. Never mind that it had been years since I had visited the Big Apple. Ella loves Roald Dahl, and so do I. Besides it was about time I visited my friend Janice, who has been living and working in NYC for the past seven years.
So off we went a couple of weekends ago to create the kind of adventure Matilda herself would have loved. Janice was a wonderful host and guide. And best of all, the play was outstanding. Milly Shapiro, our Matilda and one of the four girls who play the part at different performances, stole our hearts.
We can all identify with a child who goes against the forces of the dominant culture as does Matilda. She is a precocious reader in a household of lovers of the “telly.” Her father, Harry Wormwood, and his disgusting wife can’t understand a five-year-old girl who, in six months, reads 14 library books, including Nicholas Nickleby, The Sound and the Fury, and Animal Farm. “There’s nothin’ you can get from a book that you can’t get from a television fastah!” Mr. Wormwood says.
In the play, Matilda is not only a reader, but a magnificent story-teller. She spins a long, complicated tale (not included in the book) that parallels the early, tormented life of her teacher Miss Honey, who turns out (spoiler ahead!) to be the niece of the horrible headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, magnificently played by Bertie Carvel. At one point in the production, he/she stood behind our row, and we were scared!
Matilda was published in 1988 when Dahl was in his early seventies. In an interview, Dahl tells how he had to re-write the entire book. “I got it wrong,” he says. “I spent 6 or 8 or 9 months writing it; and when I’d finished it, it wasn’t right. So I started the whole thing again and re-wrote every word. I really had to re-write the whole thing.” (http://www.roalddahl.com)
As a writers, we can learn from Dahl’s dedication to stories, reading, and the project he started. Thanks heavens, he didn’t give up on Matilda! She continues to live on stage and in our imaginations.
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”― Roald Dahl, Matilda
Click below for an overview of Dahl’s life and books, as well as the interview.