PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Matilda: Oh, You Beautiful Dahl

By Harry Haun
12 Apr 2013

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Lauren Ward
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

At the after-party sprawled across the Westside Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, everybody was downplaying Matilda's Olivier milestone. "We can't get bogged down in prizes," argued director Warchus. "We think of it as a little-engine-that-could type of show because it came from such small beginnings. When it opened in November of 2010 in Stratford-upon-Avon, we were thinking a Christmas show, maybe—y'know, just a run-off. It wasn't really designed and built as something that would find a home in the commercial mainstream, which it seems to be finding anyway, even though it is somewhat offbeat and quirky and different from that other stuff.

"I will tell you something you may find a little hard to believe: I think that we haven't really hyped this show. A lot of the hype gets done for you by other people, so you run the risk of people saying, 'I don't think that it lives up to the hype,' and you say, 'Well, hang on a minute. Whose hype are we talking about?' because I wasn't saying anything about it. It's sad that you can't control that level of expectation and hype."

Warchus usually contents himself with adult fun 'n' games (like his double Tony wins in 2009, God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests), but this return to a childhood world is hardly unprecedented for him. "I did a big production of Peter Pan two years ago with a lot of the same people—Rob Howell designed it, and Hugh Vanstone lit it and Paul Kieve did the illusions. Since then, I have actively looked for something that would work for young people and old people—have that kind of broad spectrum of an audience. I've got young kids of my own [ages 9, 7 and 5], so I really jumped on this. It's not a show that is in any way exclusively for children or in any way excludes adults. Quite the reverse: Adults get tons out of this show. I wanted something that would work for a whole cross-section of family. That—plus the fact I like Roald Dahl. I like the fantastical, spiky, brutal worlds he conjures up."

Lording majestically over the malevolent domain in Matilda is the formative figure of Miss Trunchbull, a former Olympic hammer-thrower turned headmistress who keeps her hand in, as it were, by flinging children out windows or, in the case of one poor pigtailed offender, high into the rafters of the Shubert. She has been so tightly wound by Carvel that her head seems ready to explode at any given point in the play.