A while back, I wrote a review of Matilda, the musical. I thought it was pretty darn fantastic (the show, not my review), and so when the soundtrack got released I immediately bought it. And listened to it over and over again. I’d planned to write a bit more about the songs after getting the CD (which can be bought here), but never got around to it. However, the news this week that Matilda had been nominated for 10 Olivier Awards prompted me to do something about it.
Firstly, a note on Tim Minchin, who wrote the songs. I first heard about him on Storm, his beat poem about a flaky alternative new age floozy. It took me a while to really appreciate his wit, and intelligent lyrics, but after the Comedy Proms last year, I was a firm fan. Songs like Rock ‘n’ Roll Nerd, Prejudice and Three Minute Song are a real treat of decent music combined with brilliant wordplay and intelligent humour.
So, having someone like that writing the songs for something like Matilda was always going to be a treat, and the result doesn’t disappoint. While the impact on the night is hugely successful, even repeated listenings don’t diminish the allure. As an example, the second song in has Matilda doing her “naughty” act – glue on the hat, peroxide in the hair oil. But the twist in the lyrics, bringing in the idea of living a story, and being able to change the storyline if you feel stuck in it, is a delightful slant to the narrative:
Like Romeo and Juliet,
‘Twas written in the stars before they even met,
That love and fate and touch of stupidity
Would rob them of the hope of living happily
The endings are often a little bit gory
I wonder why they didn’t just change their story
We’re told we have to do what we told, but surely
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!
Just because you think that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change
Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you
Mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Might as well be saying you think that it’s ok
And that’s not right!
I still get goosebumps whenever I hear it.
Then, there’s the school song, where the Mummy’s Little Princesses and Daddy’s Little Soldiers arrive to be thoroughly disillusioned by what they’ll experience at school. The genius here is the lyrics, which at first singing are just words:
So you think you’re able to survive this mess by
Being a prince or a princess you will soon see
There’s no escaping tragedy
And even if you put in heaps of effort,
You’re just wasting energy
Coz your life as you know it ancient history
But on repeating, the cast fling up letters of the alphabet on stage, in time with the relevant words – Able, Being, See, trageDy, Even, Effort, enerGy, Ancient (ok, that last one is a leetle bit of a push). Fantastic.
Another thread to the story is the idea that children should be children, and nothing brings that out clearer than When I Grow Up, which is a delightful view of how children think life will be like when they’re not children, while demonstrating so clearly that they still are:
When I grow up, I will be tall enough to reach the branches
That you need to reach to climb the trees
You get to climb when you’re grown up.
And when I grow up, I will be smart enough to answer
All the questions that you need to know the answers to
Before you’re grown up
When I grow up, I will be strong enough to carry
All the heavy things you have to haul around with you
When you’re a grown up
When I grow up, I will have treats every day
And I’ll play with things that Mum pretends
That mums don’t think are fun.
I sense that I might get carried away a little if I don’t stop soon, so I won’t quote at length from Mr Wormwood’s Ode to Telly, or the anthem to flashy that Mrs Wormwood thrusts onto Miss Honey (Loud). I think it’s enough to say that if you’re in London, go and see it. And if you’re not, buy the soundtrack. And if that’s too much, go read the book again and be a kid for an evening.