Something Wicked This Way Comes: Meet Matilda Villain Bertie Carvel

By Ruth Leon
03 Mar 2013

Bertie Carvel in Matilda The Musical.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

There are children at the heart of the show, not just Matilda herself, a little girl who discovers she has extraordinary abilities, but a whole stage-full of them, and I asked Carvel whether his little colleagues were actually afraid of his scary persona as Miss Trunchbull. "Oh no, they love it," he says, "they make believe so easily. They're playing. Children are used to pretending. They have very vivid inner lives, and we foster that. They've got to be real kids, not stage kids. Matthew Warchus is extremely passionate that the kids' kidness is protected. They're great fun and they have an un-neurotic, ego-less attitude to acting. I love them."

In fact, when I saw Matilda in London I found Carvel's Miss Trunchbull rather frightening and was somewhat surprised, looking around me at the children in the audience, that they weren't at all scared but laughing uproariously, with every indication of delight, at her apparent cruelty to Matilda. Carvel doesn't find this odd at all, "Kids are no fools, they're very sophisticated, they don't miss a lot, they don't miss nuance. One of the clever things about the show is that adults will engage with it on a different level to the kids, but nobody is being short-changed. Childhood is full of frightening things. They recognize cruelty for what it is and translate it into something in their own understanding. They might see the world in different colors to grown-ups, but they see the same world. They see Matilda surrounded by grown-up people who are cruel, who are damaged themselves, and who live in a world of darkness, and it's real, it has to be real, for adults as well as children. You have to recognize the darkness and children can."

There is very little darkness right now in Bertie Carvel's Broadway life. He laughs delightedly, "I have no idea whether Matilda will be as big a hit here as it was in the U.K. When it comes to theatrical success, nobody knows anything. But I'm very happy to be here."

(This feature appears in the March 2013 issue of Playbill magazine.)