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Theatre / Matilda

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My mummy says I'm a lousy little worm
My daddy says I'm a bore
My mummy says I'm a jumped-up little germ
That kids like me should be against the law
My daddy says I should learn to shut my pie-hole
No one likes a smart-mouthed girl like me
Mum says I'm a good case for population control
Dad says I should watch more TV
Matilda, "Miracle"

The Musical based on the Roald Dahl novel Matilda, which opened in Stratford in 2010. Moved to the West End in 2011, cleaned up on every award going, and made it to Broadway in 2013. Once again we follow young Bookworm Matilda as she contends first with her appalling parents, and then with the far more terrible figure of Miss Trunchbull, monstrous Child Hater and abusive head of Crunchem Hall who intimidates pupils and teachers alike — only this time we have the whole thing set to songs by Tim Minchin.

A film adaptation, starring Emma Thompson (Miss Trunchbull) and Lashana Lynch (Miss Honey), was released in late 2022.

This show provides examples of (in addition to the novel's tropes):

  • Abusive Parents: Possibly more neglectful than actually abusive in the Wormwoods' case; on the other hand, the abuse Miss Honey received as a child from her aunt, Miss Trunchbull has left her terrified for life. Worse yet, everybody else's parents make a song and dance routine about their own little miracles.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Bruce Bogtrotter may or may not be overweight depending on the child actor who plays him, but is rarely as heavy as he is in the book and 1996 film.
    • While it's downplayed by their dreadful fashion choices, Matilda's parents were played on by Gabriel Ebert and Lesli Margherita, who are both much younger and better looking than the typical depictions of the Wormwoods.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Agatha Trunchbull is even worse than in the book and film. Here, she not only murdered her brother in law and enslaved her niece, but also arranged for her own sister to die. Furthermore, she wants to put chokeys in all of the classrooms and have the school turned into a place where children are literally tortured all day.
  • Adaptational Skill: The eponymous girl is bilingual, speaking both Russian and English, whereas in the book, she could only speak English.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The various crooked deals Mr Wormwood does in the book are streamlined into a subplot about a single deal he is arranging with a group of foreign businessmen that he is convinced will make his fortune, but instead leads to him fleeing the country with his family after the people he scammed turn out to be members of The Mafiya.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The musical adds a story that Matilda tells about an acrobat and an escapologist. Which, among other things, gives Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull some very interesting backstory. It also adds The Mafiya.
  • Adults Are Useless: Mr and Mrs Wormwood don't even care. The teachers are terrified of Miss Trunchbull. The librarian in town is friendly, but more childlike than some of the children and not very observant. If all else fails, there is The Mafiya.
    • Partly subverted by Miss Honey; she's the only main character to recognise how intelligent Matilda truly is and, when she can't get her moved to an advanced class, provides her with books that are more at her level, but she's still unable to protect Matilda (or the other children) from Miss Trunchbull's despotic reign.
  • Alphabet Song: The "School Song", which teaches the letters during the song by emphasizing them in a sentence—notably, the letters are mostly emphasized in words that don't start with the letter in question:
    So you think you're A-ble [able]
    To survive this mess by B-ing [being]
    A prince or a princess, you will soon C [see],
    There's no escaping trage-D [tragedy].
  • An Aesop: In "Naughty", the main character comments that while toughing out the hard times is occasionally necessary, always doing that leads to nothing ever getting better: "If you always take on the chin and wear it / nothing will change." The point of the song, and one of the points of the play as the whole, is to encourage people to make things happen, rather than waiting for their situations to improve.
  • Alliterative Name: Bruce Bogtrotter, as with his book counterpart.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
  • Ascended Extra: Ms. Phelps the Librarian plays a very large role in the musical, while in the book and the movie her role was rather limited.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Upon ending a phone-call with the Russians, Mr. Wormwood says, "Do svi-doo-dah!", a bastardized pronunciation of the Russian phrase "до свидания (Do svidaniya)" meaning "Goodbye".
  • Audience Participation: Before performing "Telly", Mr. Wormwood will typically call for a show of hands to see how many adults in the audience have read a book. After asking one of them for their name, he will attempt to ridicule that audience member for being a "bookworm".
  • Berserk Button: Don't let that equally-frightening soft voice fool you. Miss Trunchbull has many of these.
  • Big Entrance: Every one of Miss Trunchbull's entrances (i.e. an ear-piercing whistle, shouting, or the moment we learn she's Miss Honey's aunt). Either way, you'll know she's coming. "Miracle" also builds up to Matilda's first appearance.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The kids ponder Bruce's ability to down that massive cake with the lyrics "Or maybe your largeness/Is a bit like the TARDIS:/Considerably roomier inside."
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Miss Honey addresses Rudolpho in Italian.
    • Matilda has a conversation in Russian with Sergei, the leader of the Russian businessmen, to keep Sergei's henchmen from hurting her father.
    • Sergei has a small argument in Russian with his henchmen after finishing his poignant musical interlude. When he sings Matilda's name, his thugs think that he says "да (da)", the Russian word for "yes".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Before the climax, the librarian narrates that there isn't a happy ending, referring to the fact Matilda is still raised by her abusive parents. Though this takes place right before Matilda does get her happy ending. It's possible said "unhappy ending" is alluding to the fact that the Wormwoods would never really change for the better, though there's some hope for Mr. Wormwood.
  • Books vs. Screens: The play not only has everyone either watch TV or read books with no one doing both, like in the book, but it turns out that the reason why Mr. Wormwood is so Book Dumb is because he learnt everything he knows from the television — this play seems to ignore educational shows.
  • Brawn Hilda: Miss Trunchbull. Played by a man, sometimes with a massive hunchback. The decision was made due to it being more likely for male actors to reach Trunchbull's massive height.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Mrs. Wormwood's nine-month pregnancy comes as a total shock to her... She's further horrified to learn that she won't be able to compete in the Bi-Annual International Amateur Salsa and Ballroom Dancing Championships in Paris.
  • By the Hair: Miss Trunchbull hates pigtails and whirls one girl around by them with the strength she still has from throwing the hammer.
  • Canis Latinicus: "What is the school motto, Miss Honey? Bambinatum est magitum — children are maggots!" note 
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • Rudolpho, Mrs Wormwood's dancing partner.
    • The Russian businessmen.
    • The Acrobat and the Escapologist and the former's sister, from Matilda's story are subversions. They are actually Miss Honey's parents and Miss Trunchbull, respectively.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Lavender cannot help herself from spoiling her plan of putting a newt into the Truchbull's water jug to the audience. It's a clever bit of exposition.
  • Chair Reveal: Miss Trunchbull's first appearance.
  • Child Prodigy: Matilda, who is extremely intelligent for her young age, much like in the book.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After a doctor berates Mr. Wormwood for smoking a cigarette in a maternity ward, he apologizes profusely — before lighting a cigar instead, "realizing" that situations like these call for "a proper smoke".
  • Compensating for Something: Mr Wormwood's song about television asserts, "The bigger the telly, the bigger the man."
  • Competition Freak: Because of her status as an Olympic hammer-throwing champion, Miss Trunchbull takes this to the extreme. She always has to be the best. She always has to have the last word. If she can't punish one child, she'll immediately take out her fury on another. When Bruce finishes the cake, she adds a second punishment — Chokey. She even has a way of dealing with a group of kids who can't fit into one Chokey.
    Trunchbull: In this world, children, there are two types of human being. The winners and the losers. I am a winner. I play by the rules, and I win. If I play by the rules and… I do not win, then something is wrong. Something is not working. If something is wrong, you have to put it right. Even if it screams.
  • Creepy Child: Subverted in Matilda's case because she's really sweet. But one can not get over her rather disturbing story of the Acrobat and the Escapologist.
  • Crosscast Role: Trunchbull is played by a male actor.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: Mrs. Wormwood's "Loud" and Matilda's "Quiet".
  • Crowd Song: Quite a few: "School Song", "Bruce" and "Revolting Children" in particular.
  • Dark Reprise:
    • "When I Grow Up" is a sweet song of children's innocent ideas of what adult life is, tugging at the heartstrings of all the grown-ups in the audience. Then Miss Honey gets her verse. When I grow up, I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up. Her fearsome monster was all too real and still has her living in fear.
    • Something similar is done with "Miracle" as the children, who have been told all their lives that they're all amazingly special, approach the gates of Crunchem Hall and try to reassure themselves of that increasingly dubious claim in the first stretch of "School Song".
    • Also, "I'm Here" has a reprise that's a counterpoint to the final stretch of "My House", as it becomes clear that the Escapologist was actually Miss Honey's father.
  • Deal with the Devil: Miss Trunchbull claims that Bruce "made a pact with Satan and decided to steal my cake!" by way of justifying her extreme punishment.
  • Death by Childbirth: The acrobat in Matilda's story, also Miss Honey's mother, is a variant; dying after having her baby, not because of the childbirth itself, but from the injuries sustained from a prior accident caused by her sister.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Miss Honey's mother died when she was two years old, of unmentioned causes. In the musical, the pregnant Acrobat accidentally fell during a dangerous stunt that her sister forced her to perform, and broke every bone in her body, leading to her Death by Childbirth soon afterward.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Parodied. At the beginning of the second act, there's an announcement warning that the show includes depictions of dangerous activities that the children in the audience should not imitate. But the announcement is being made by Mr. Wormwood, who's referring to reading books.
  • Doting Parent: My mummy says I'm a miracle! This goes for all the other children, it seems; the doctor in the maternity ward expresses amazement at the sheer number of alleged miracles he sees each day. Eventually all these brave soldiers and pretty ballerinas get to school. There's a steep learning curve.
  • Dumb Blonde: Mrs. Wormwood, and she's proud of it!
  • Dumb Is Good: Mrs. Wormwood is a firm believer. You seem to think that people like people what are clever. It's very quaint. It's very sweet. But wrong.
  • Educational Song: The ABC, of sorts; more importantly, it's a guide to surviving your first day at a particularly tough school.
  • Evil Uncle: Not only does Trunchbull later murder her brother-in-law and enslave her niece, in this adaptation, Trunchbull caused her own sister's death.
  • Flat Character: Rudolpho, and his presence does not really alter the story in any way compared to the other Canon Foreigner characters. The only bit that really adds to the plot is when Miss Honey starts speaking Italian to him, and he does not understand a word she says.
  • Force Feeding: Bruce Bogtrotter steals some cake and is forced to eat the whole rest of the giant cake. When he succeeds against all expectations, the Trunchbull is angry and throws him in Chokey for further punishment.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In "Miracle", Bruce notes "It's true he [my father] indulges my tendency to bulge" — which would mean his large appetite. That tendency will get him in a lot of trouble at the end of Act One.
    • During the Acrobat and Escapologist story, when Matilda introduces the Acrobat's sister, she imitates Miss Trunchbull. It sounds like she's simply drawing inspiration from life, when really the sister in the story was Trunchbull.
  • Genre Savvy: It comes of all that reading. The conclusion? Time to be naughty.
  • Glory Days: Miss Trunchbull dwells on her status as English Hammer-throwing Champion, 1969; it strongly colours her attitude and her approach to the teaching profession, along with providing her an... extreme option for dealing with the children. Especially those with Girlish Pigtails.
  • Gym Class Hell: A favoured approach when Miss Trunchbull scents rebellion among the children.
  • Heavy Sleeper: Nigel "suffers from the rare chronic sleep disorder narcolepsy" — not really, but Matilda fabricates this lie to save him from Miss Trunchbull's punishment for a wrongly-accused prank.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr Wormwood, very dishonest as always.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: When the eponymous girl is born, her stupid father mistakes her for a boy and asks where her "thingie" is. When the doctor doesn't understand, Mr. Wormwood says, "His thingy! His whatchamacallit. His whojamaflip. His doo-dah."
  • Hurricane of Puns: School Song is full of puns on the letters of the alphabet
  • I Am Spartacus: After Lavender is made to spell a long made up word, the entire rest of the class misspells words knowing that they can't all fit in the Chokey at once. Of course, the Trunchbull found a way to get around that...
  • "I Am" Song: Several: "Naughty" for Matilda, "The Hammer" for Miss Trunchbull, "Telly" and "Loud" for Mr and Mrs Wormwood respectively.
  • "I Want" Song: "When I Grow Up".
  • Inner Monologue: "Quiet", as Matilda discovers her powers. The world around her continues moving… and then time stops.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Poor Michael. In the book, he used to be just an ordinary kid — stupid compared to Matilda, but so was everybody. Here, he seems to be downright mentally disabled, not doing much other than lying around and repeating the last word he hears someone say. TELLY!
  • Knight of Cerebus: The Chokey. Miss Trunchbull constantly switches from funny to genuinely menacing, but the Chokey is never played for laughs, and the threat of being locked for hours on end in a pitch-black cupboard where you can't sit or lean against the walls without getting cut by broken glass or nails is treated seriously throughout.
  • Large Ham: Huge. Miss Trunchbull dances across the stage with a ribbon while singing about how to apply the lessons of hammer-throwing to life in general, and delivers the most terrifying of PE lessons. One must assume Bertie Carvel enjoys the taste of scenery.
  • List Song:
    • "The Smell of Rebellion":
      All right, let's step it up, double time:
      One, two, three, four - Discipline, discipline,
      For children who aren't listening,
      For midgets who are fidgeting,
      And whispering in history,
      Their chattering and chittering,
      Their nattering and twittering
      Is tempered with a smattering of discipline.
    • In "Telly," Mr. Wormwood lists a variety of authors and books including Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Harry Potter, (Charlotte Brontë in the Broadway production), Jane Austen, James Joyce, Ian McEwan, William Shakespeare, and Moby Dick.
  • Long List: Matilda's list of the books she's read in the past few days.
  • Long Title: "The Burning Woman Hurling Through the Air With Dynamite in Her Hair Over Sharks And Spiky Objects Caught By the Man Locked in the Cage" ...and it is the greatest feat ever known to man.
  • Lost in Translation: The final pun in "School Song" is often lost on non-British English speakers who are unaware that the letter Z is pronounced "zed" in Great Britain.
  • Meaningful Name: The musical gives this to Magnus Honey. Magnus means "great", which is a common title for circus performers.
  • Mind over Matter: Plus some limited clairvoyance this time around? Matilda knows things about Miss Honey's past without realising it.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Appears at the beginning of "The Smell of Rebellion" when Miss Trunchbull interrupts herself to yell at the children:
    This school, of late, has started reeking...
    ...Reeking with a most disturbing scent...
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The Wormwoods... and Rudolpho!
  • No Fourth Wall:
    • Lavender, on occasion, turns to the audience to reveal what she's going to do, such as putting a newt into Miss Trunchbull's cup of water.
    • Bruce reveals to the audience that he was the one who stole Miss Trunchbull's chocolate cake and ate it when the latter falsely accuses Matilda for the crime.
    • Also, Mr Wormwood directly addresses the audience about why the television set is better than books in "Telly".
    • In the final scene, Mrs Phelps and Miss Honey address the audience directly to describe what happened to each of the characters afterward.
  • Nose Nuggets: When Matilda dyes her father's hair green, he tries to lie that it's Green Hair Day, meant to celebrate green things. He then adds, "Like lettuce, and, um... snot?"
  • The Not-So-Harmless Punishment: Bruce and the cake.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Amanda Thripp falls from the ceiling of the theatre after being thrown by Miss Trunchbull.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Miss Trunchbull does this during "The Smell of Rebellion". At the beginning of the song she declares that exercise will somehow make the children fall down and confess to their rebellious nature. While they are exercising, she suddenly and completely changes her attitude.Speech  Sure enough, this tricks one of the students into saying "She's mad!" and immediately resumes the role of evil headmistress.
  • Ominous Multiple Screens: Miss Trunchbull is looking at them the first time Miss Honey enters her office.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The Acrobat's white scarf, which she gave to her husband, who then gave it to their child. Seeing Miss Honey with the same scarf helps Matilda put the pieces together.
  • Parental Love Song: "I'm Here", sung by the Escapologist to his daughter.
  • Patter Song: This show is full of quickly-sung songs — "Miracle", "School Song", "The Hammer", "Chokey Chant", "Bruce", the 'double-time' portion of "The Smell of Rebellion"," and "Revolting Children".
  • Period Piece: Downplayed. The Wormwood's "big" telly is a modestly-sized retro model, which displays Test Card F on its screennote . At one point, a woman crosses the stage carrying a C&A shopping bagnote .
  • Pint-Sized Kid: The child who portrays Eric is traditionally the smallest, making the character the easiest target for Miss Trunchbull's abuse.
  • Playing a Tree: The opening number features a montage of proud parents boasting about the underwhelming accomplishments of their children; in some productions, this includes a child who was cast as a tree in the school play, whose parents proclaim that they've never seen a tree more convincingly portrayed.
  • POW Camp: The gateway to Crunchem Hall looks chillingly familiar. Tall and intimidating, it looks more like a prison than a school.
  • Punishment Box: The Chokey is described as a small, closet-like contraption loaded with spikes, wood and nails with the Trunchbull sentencing disobedient students for breaking her rules. But at least Miss Trunchbull only has one, right?...
  • Raised Lighter Tribute: The other kids during "Bruce" try to encourage Bruce to finish the cake set before him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • "Loud", in particular, is a musical one delivered by Mrs. Wormwood to Miss Honey.
    • As Matilda sings "Quiet", Miss Trunchbull launches into a lengthy, vicious tirade after the former defends Eric against her physical bullying. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood also have their moments.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Miss Trunchbull's standard policy is to punish the kids in ways so outlandish, such as taking a girl by the pigtails and throwing her like a hammer, that if they try to tell others about it, no one would believe them. This is something that her book counterpart does as well.
  • Running Gag: In the first scene, Mr. Wormwood assumes that his new child is a son, and continues to address Matilda as "boy" in every subsequent scene until the final scene, where he gets it right when showing that he's genuinely going to miss her at least a bit.
  • Sadist Teacher: The Trunchbull, naturally, is a dictator in her school who punishes students unfairly, including sentencing hapless students to the Chokey. Exaggerated from the book with spectacular stunts and a memorable Villain Song or two.
  • Screw Destiny: As from "Naughty", Matilda states that one can try to endure through bad times, but it isn't "right" and resolves to change her fate herself.
    But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
    Nobody but me is going to change my story.
    Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.
  • Sibling Murder: When the acrobat tries to cancel a highly dangerous performance due to her pregnancy, her sister (Miss Trunchbull), forces her to do the death defying stunt or go to jail. An accident on set causes injuries leading to the acrobats death, with her sister's suspicious smile and lack of remorse suggesting she intended her sibling to die in the performance.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To another Roald Dahl work, in the climactic song "Revolting Children": "We are revolting children, living in revolting times/We sing revolting songs, using revolting rhymes...
    • Or maybe because your largeness/is a bit like the TARDIS
  • The Show Must Go On: The Acrobat and Escapologist choose to cancel their performance of the greatest feat known to man when they find out she's pregnant. The audience is thrilled with the news... but the Escapologist's sister (who booked the performance down to the toilet facilities) produces a contract that dictates that this trope must apply or else they will be sent to prison. As the track listing for this stretch of the story on the Broadway cast album puts it, "The Trick Started Well..."
  • Sinister Surveillance: Miss Trunchbull's office has a plethora of television screens surveying each room of Crunchem Hall. She is always watching...
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: No one seems to call social services on the Trunchbull for her sadistic atrocities. Unless they're terrified of Miss Trunchbull too!
  • Taught by Television: The Wormwoods claim that they were made smarter thanks to watching TV.
    Mr. Wormwood: All I know, I learnt from...
    Michael: ...TELLY!
    Mr. Wormwood: The bigger the...
    Michael: ...TELLY!
    Mr. Wormwood: ....the smarter the man!
  • Too Happy to Live: The story of the Acrobat and the Escapologist boils down to both having so much happiness they wanted the happiness of getting a child. And then some things happen along the way that puts them both through the wringer and kills the acrobat.
  • Tranquil Fury: The build-up in "Quiet" that leads to Matilda discovering her powers.
    I'm sorry, I'm not quite explaining it right
    but this noise becomes anger and the anger is light
    And its burning inside me would usually fade
    But it isn't today!
  • Trophy Room: Look at these trophies, see how my trophies gleam in the sunlight, see how they shine...
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The story Matilda is telling to Ms. Phelps throughout the show? It's actually Miss Honey's backstory!
  • The Unfavorite: Poor Matilda is mistreated and abused by Mr and Mrs Wormwood while her brother is basically doted on and spoiled by them. Even Miss Honey admits that seeing her with such abusive parents would anger her and want to save her at the end.
    Matilda: My mummy says I'm a lousy little worm
    My daddy says I'm a bore
    My mummy says I'm a jumped-up little germ, that girls like me should be against the law...
  • Weight Woe: When Mrs. Wormwood is in labour without knowing that she's even pregnant, the doctor points at her bump and asks what she thinks could be causing it. She thinks that he's calling her fat, and seems very shocked at the idea.
  • Wrongfully Accused: Whenever Trunchbull is pranked, she seems to pick a culprit at random (and almost always gets it wrong).
  • Villainous Breakdown: As in the book, the terrifying Miss Trunchbull freaks out when Matilda uses her powers to impersonate Miss Honey's dead father, heavily implied to have been murdered by Trunchbull. This is the only version of the story in which she does not faint at any point, however. Instead, she is bullied off the stage by the children (and Miss Honey) in complete hysterics.
  • Villain Song: The Trunchbull gets two great ones in the form of "The Hammer" in Act 1 and "The Smell of Rebellion" in Act 2.

Full Company: But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit—

Miss Trunchbull: Maggots!
All: Naughty!