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

By Harry Haun
12 Apr 2013

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Warchus' instructions to his casting director in London was to send him any tall guys who were great actors and could sing, and in walked Carvel, the veteran of one musical—but Olivier-nominated for it (Jason Robert Brown's Parade). In the first two readings, the part of Miss Trunchbull was played by a woman—indeed, a woman (Pam Ferris) played the part in the 1996 movie—but, Warchus recalled, "when it became apparent how much of the hammer-thrower we were going to be doing on the stage—twirling kids around and diving over things—I knew I wanted an actor who would tower over everybody else in this story."

Carvel filled that bill—and a lot more. "What we agreed is that we would take a psychological approach to this grotesque character. She wouldn't be a caricature, and she wouldn't flirt with the audience. She's almost at odds with the audience. In fact, she's downright hostile to the audience positively at the curtain call. This is a key factor because this is a character who does silly things and you do laugh at her and enjoy her company, but, as the story goes on, you discover a past and you discover, in fact, she's a killer. Bertie has created a performance that can take you on the whole journey. He kinda plays it like Richard III, a deranged grotesque."

A hero's welcome greeted Carvel when he made his fashionably late Star Entrance at the party. It was obvious he had enjoyed doing the devil's handiwork that evening. "I think Agatha is a pretty despicable person, but I think I understand her fairly well, and I certainly feel for her," he said. "I sorta get her, and I sorta feel I can bring her to life. The feeling that we're all reaching for as actors is the feeling that we've brought someone to life. It's like sports. Acting is like sports—it is a sport—and you kinda like varying the levels of pressure. You have to make sure you play a good game."

He tried not to put undue importance on the fact that he is now officially a Broadway actor. "Why is this more official than last night?" he wondered. "I don't know if anyone in the audience paid for their tickets, but the idea is that somebody did. And any given night, a lot of people paid a lot of money—and even if they didn't pay money, you want them to have the best night. You can't get confused by the occasion. It's like playing the final of the World Cup. You just gotta focus on the game, and that's what we did tonight. We've been doing that for five weeks , and I think we've played a really great game every night. It's a great team."