The classic tale of a girl misunderstood, Matilda’s fantastical and poetic story has been reimagined by Dennis Kelly, with songs written by Australian comedy musician Tim Minchin. Matilda the Musical follows an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny. The stage is sure to come alive with Dahl’s memorable and, at times, squirmish characters, including Bruce Bogtrotter and the fearless Ms. Trunchbull.
We were lucky enough to interview the musical’s unlikely heroine, Ms. Honey played by actor Elise McCann, and talked musicals, books, and most importantly, Roald Dahl.
Art Series Hotel Group: Were you a fan of Roald Dahl novels growing up?
Elise McCann: Absolutely! I loved Roald Dahl. I was a big reader growing up. I always participated in the MS Read-a-thon, and I was quite a competitive kid, so revelled in the idea of being able to ‘compete’ in something like reading, which I naturally saw more of as a private escape and fun pass time. Along with Matilda, my favourites were The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was terrified of The Grand High Witch and loved being precocious like Veruca Salt.
ASHG: Were you familiar with the story of Matilda?
EM: Yes, I don’t remember how old I was exactly when I first read it but I remember that I felt like I was reading a grown up book because I thought some of the words were ‘rude’. I loved that the language felt naughty. It made me feel like I was grown up. And I still felt like I understood exactly what was going on. Even though some of the words were foreign, the language is so vivid and textural that even as a kid you can feel and smell and sense the world and the characters, and so it’s exciting and irreverent and liberating and empowering all in one!
ASHG: If you could turn any novel into a stage play / musical what would you like to see brought to life?
EM: Oh wow! That is a tough question. Honestly I haven’t ever really thought about it. I did hear that The Princess Bride was being written for the stage. That would be amazing. I loved that story and movie growing up, and I think because it is essentially a fairy tale, with mischief and wonder and heroes and villains - it is inherently dramatic and ‘magical’ in its nature, so would translate beautifully into a musical.
ASHG: What drew you to Miss Honey’s character?
EM: She is honest and generous and loving, but internally she is deeply damaged and wounded and flawed. Honey is inherently a strong and brave woman, but she has been so beaten down and battered by bullying and neglect that she has lost her confidence in herself and her own power. She is so fragile, and really struggles to stand up for herself, but she can’t help but stand up for others. I think that is beautiful and honestly quite true for many people in real life. We are all damaged in some way, some with scars that reach deeper than others, but ultimately everyone is struggling with something and just trying to do their best to power through. Matilda re-awakens Honey to her own power and strength and worth. It is a beautiful lesson to remind us all that we are all enough, and deserving of respect and kindness and love, and we are stronger and more capable than we think.
ASHG: How has it been working with Tim Minchin? Did you know his work prior to Matilda?
EM: He is brilliant! It has been such a ride. I knew a lot of his music prior to Matilda. My dad and sister were big Minchin fans, so growing up I was introduced to him a lot. I also watched him in Californication – which is incredible, if you are over 18 you have to watch it! Working with him has been awesome. We haven’t had heaps of time with him as he splits his time working in LA as well as being in Australia. But the time we have had has been a whirlwind of genius, laughter and irreverent insight. He is such a generous and down to earth guy. He is kind and fun and so complimentary. I was overwhelmed by how complimentary and supportive and positive he was. He comes across completely devoid of ego and honestly just a really funny, insanely intelligent and witty guy, who is super fun to hang out and have a glass of wine and talk for hours with! As a creative he is truly genius – there is no one else I can think of, bar maybe Sondheim, who uses lyric and rhyme in quite the same way. A perfect match for Roald Dahl.
ASHG: What is your dream stage musical to be a part of?
EM: Another tough question! To be honest I want to originate a role in a brand new musical. It will probably have to be in the US or UK as we don’t have many original musicals that are created here – but that is something I would love to do and is on my bucket list for career. The other thing would be to do a movie musical and voice a Disney character!
ASHG: What would we find you doing on a day off?
EM: Probably either riding my bike or having a swim at the beach. Also probably reading or listening to one of my podcasts or audible books. I am currently listening to Amy Poehler’s book ‘Yes Please’ as well as season 2 of Serial and also frequent Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and have just started listening to Alec Baldwin’s. I generally always have a coffee and / or some sort of meal with friends on a day off too.
Matilda the Musical will premiere at Melbourne's Princess Theatre from 13 March 2016, with tickets currently on sale from Ticketmaster.
Make a night of this magical evening and book tickets and a sleepover package at The Olsen.
Hero image: Molly Barwick and Elise McCann, photography by James Morgan.