Matilda – A Special Theatre Experience
Last week I was invited to watch Matilda at t he Birmingham Hippodrome. I had a plus-one so I had to make that very difficult decision of which child to take! I knew Shivam wanted to watch the musical but Sukh and I decided I would take Shalini. I haven’t spent much one-on-one time with her lately and Sukh wanted some time alone with Shivam too and we were surprised he was quite chilled about it. He was looking forward to a night in with his Daddy.
After work, I picked Shalini up and we arrived at the theatre at five. As well as watching the musical that evening, we had been invited to take part in a backstage tour with other bloggers. It was my first event of this kind so I was really keen on attending. I love theatre and I love musicals so to see what went on behind-the-scenes would be an amazing experience. Shalini was equally as excited.
Upon arrival we were offered refreshments and treated to a delicious slice of Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake. I read Matilda as a child but I had forgotten the storyline of the Road Dahl classic. But I did remember the Bruce’s character and that whole chocolate cake he was forced to finish by Miss Trunchbull.
After that the stage manager met us for a chat and shared some interesting facts about the show. I was surprised to learn there are twenty adults in the cast, twenty-six kids and eleven in the band. That’s quite a huge production. I’ve always wondered how children who are in musicals do their schooling and I finally learned that they have tutors and chaperones, so the children study during the day and then perform in the evenings. I could see Shalini was impressed by this bit of information.
Matilda started out in Stratford-Upon-Avon with the Royal Shakespeare Company eight years ago before moving to London’s West End. It’s now been on tour since March, starting out in Leicester and heading to Manchester after the summer stint in Birmingham. I love watching plays and musicals in the West End because we can make a day of it in the capital but it’s so convenient to have a show the family really wants to watch on our doorstep. The Hippodrome is a lovely theatre – contemporary and comfortable. I love the character, history and architecture of the older theatres in London but the kids prefer the Hippodrome because it’s ‘more modern’.
It was interesting to learn that it actually takes three days to move a show from one theatre to another – including the lighting, floorboards, props and costumes. After the chat, we were taken backstage. It was the most exciting part for me because I have always wondered about the layout, the set-up and how things work. Our first stop was the area immediately behind the stage. We saw one of the most important areas – command control. This is where the person calling the whole show sits, making sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be and everything happens at the right time.
We were then taken to my favourite place of the whole tour – the stage. It was fascinating to walk amongst the props that would be used in the opening scene. We spent a good ten minutes here, looking out into the auditorium. It was making me nervous just looking out at the empty seats from the stalls to the circles.
I could only imagine how nerve-racking it was for the performers with a full house in front of them. But then I’m not a trained actor and far from equipped to deal with an audience. I’m sure the performers are excited and buzzing to be on that stage every night.
Shalini clicked some great photos of me on stage. We both felt really special. After all, the public can’t just hop onto stage and have a walk around. When we were offered the opportunity to strike ‘the Matilda pose’, I snapped it up. Shalini was ready with the camera to direct me correctly as it took me a while to get it right!
After we were done, we were taken to one of the costume rooms. This was a small makeshift room backstage where the kids could rush to and quickly get into their next costume. Everything was laid out, ready to pull on. There were nametags on the floor in front of each chair so the children knew exactly which costume belonged to them. It was such a small space yet at least a dozen people use that room at the same time.
We continued the tour to the Wardrobe Room, where costumes go to get repaired. There are small repairs to do each night – split trousers, missing buttons. There are a lot of costumes to keep on top of and as there are two ‘covers’ for each of the main roles there is a lot of maintenance work.
The ladies working in wardrobe explained they have someone coming in earlier in the day to sort all the washing and ironing, which takes four hours. Any repairs then come to them and they work through the performance in case there’s a costume issue.
All of this was really fascinating and Shalini and I kept looking at each other as we realised just how much work went into a single performance.
Once we were done backstage, we went back into the auditorium. The adult cast were warming-up on stage and it was nice to have a chance to take some more photos in a quiet theatre before it got busy later.
Once we were done here, we had an hour of free time before we had to take our seats for the evening performance. As the Hippodrome is right in the heart of Chinatown, Shalini and I decided to grab some dinner at one of our favourite eateries – Cafe Soya.
We ordered Vietnamese spicy fried rice with chicken, chicken with garlic black bean sauce and wontons. It was delicious but it was such a hot day, we only managed to finish half of it and I got the rest packed up to take home.
We returned to the theatre to pick up our tickets and programme.Words that crop up in the story are spelt out among the blocks that jumble around the stage and while we waited for the show to begin, we had fun trying to find as many words as we could. We could only find twenty but I’m sure there are way more than that!
Without giving too much away – and if you haven’t ever read the book or seen the film adaptation, Matilda is about a five-year-old girl with the gift of telekinesis (using her mind to move objects). She loves reading, overcomes obstacles caused by her parents and headteacher and helps her kind-natured teacher to reclaim her life.
It’s always interesting to watch children in a musical, especially when they play such a big part. Last year we went to watch School Of Rock in London and I couldn’t believe how talented the children were. You can read my review of our day here. The kids in this musical are just as impressive. Matilda was played by Lara Cohen and she was phenomenal. She had so many solo songs and she performed them impeccably. But my favourites were definitely Miss Trunchbull and Mrs Wormwood, played by Craige Els and Rebecca Thornhill respectively. Miss Trunchbull was as formidable and intimidating as her character in the book and Mrs Wormwood was humorous – and quite endearing – despite being a selfish mother.
If you and your kids love theatre – and musicals in particular, it’s definitely one to catch over the summer. I’m not surprised it’s been running for nearly eighteen years.
Behind-The-Scenes: Seeing backstage was really cool because when you watch a show you don’t know what lies behind the curtains and I got to see that for the first time. My favourite bit was seeing the costume room where the kids get ready because it was such a tight space but was so organised. I loved going on stage when the theatre was empty.
Performance: I thought it was really good because it was mainly based on kids. Most plays I’ve watched are adults so it was nice to see young people performing. My favourite character was Miss Honey because she was really sweet and the actress portrayed the role really well.
Songs: The songs were all really good. Naughty was my favourite because it’s very true – sometimes you do have to be a little naughty!
Production: The staging was done really well because before the show and during the interval, me and my mum tried to find as many words as possible. It’s a good way to kill time. The whole production was full of comedy.
Matilda is on at The Birmingham Hippodrome until 8th September so you have plenty of time to go and enjoy one of Roald Dahl’s greatest stories.
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