Matilda’ is a hit musical both on Broadway and the West End of London. But it also made a splash in Nairobi this past weekend at The Banda School and hardly anybody knew about that.
For one night only, 19 Banda kids, from age nine to 15, performed this box-office hit with panache and pizzazz, thanks to the children’s passion for theatre and their directors’ enthusiasm for the story line.
It’s a bitter-sweet story about a little bright girl who’s unwanted by her narcissistic parents, the Wormwoods (Isabelle Jones and Finn Hennessy-Barrett) and abused by her headmistress, Miss Trenchbull (Findley Grammaticas) at school.
That would hardly seem to be the stuff that would ‘wow’ adult as well as youth audiences. But just as we’re saying Tinga Tinga Tales the Musical will have appeal across generations, so it’s also true of this marvelous show, told with music, dance and deliciously wicked comedy. Banda’s version of the musical was adapted for the Nairobi stage by the school’s drama teacher Emma Withall who, with the musical’s director Karen Lewis, saw Matilda in London and loved it.
The adaptation was ingenious as Withall (whose ‘Beatnik’ drama club is flooded with kids) accommodated a larger cast than the original show. She had two girls playing Matilda (Vera Hoffman as narrator and Jessica Viljoen as the spunky girl child) and a whole lot more classroom kids in the chorus.
But to be honest, what’s even more remarkable about this show is the fact that the cast had just one week of every-day rehearsals before they came on stage! Hard to believe although Withall did give her cast the script at least a month before so they had time to learn their lines. Otherwise, it was remarkable the way everything fell into place, including the special effects, as when the merciless Miss Trenchbull (who frankly starred for ‘her’ comedic cruelty) hurled one student out the window but handily replaced the naughty boy with a life-size doll that ‘she’ actually threw away. Fortunately for Matilda, she finds understanding kindness from her teacher, Miss Honey (Molly Carroll) and her school librarian, Mrs Phelps (Nina Redinger).
The happy ending doesn’t come easily, but all the cruel ones get their comeuppance and the full cast gets their chance to delight parents with their song and dance performance, accompanied by a live band led by Withall on piano.