REVIEW: Matilda The Musical is a Feast of Magical Moments


Matilda The Musical has returned to Singapore as part of its 2024 international tour! Produced by GWB Entertainment in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and presented by Base Entertainment Asia, the celebrated stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved story about an extraordinary and precocious little girl is currently playing at Marina Bay Sands’ Sands Theatre until 7 April.

Matilda Wormwood, girl extraordinare. Photo © Hanan Assor.

The multi-award winning musical premiered in 2010 in the UK to immediate acclaim and has been seen by 11 million people in over 90 cities worldwide.  Written by Dennis Kelly, directed by Matthew Warchus and featuring original songs by Tim Minchin, the production is inspiring, humorous and spectacular all at once throughout its 140 minutes run time (including intermission) and is largely faithful to the book. If you have not read Dahl’s masterpiece, Matilda is about a brilliant and gutsy little girl with telekinetic powers who uses her brains and bravery to help others, while getting sweet revenge on a nasty and abusive headmistress. 

Matilda faces her evil headmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull. Photo © Hanan Assor.

With a significant portion of the plot set in school, the cast features many child actors, including the very talented Yolani Balfour who set the stage alight as Matilda Wormwood on this Gala Night (Balfour shares the title role with Donna Craig and Myla Williams). Born to ignorant and aloof parents who are blind to her intelligence and even scorn her love for reading and knowledge, Matilda turns to the library for solace. Besides books, which she devours at a ferocious pace, the sympathetic librarian Mrs Phelps (Londiwe Dhlomo-Damini) is the other bright spark in her routine, as the number one fan listening to the incredible stories Matilda invents. While at school, Matilda lends her bravery, brains and strong sense of morality to seek justice for her long-suffering teacher Miss Honey (Gemma Scholes) and classmates, all bullied by the evil headmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull (James Wolstenholme).

The loud and flamboyant Mrs Wormwood would rather dance and watch ‘telly’ instead of caring about her daughter. Photo © Hanan Assor.

In Matilda The Musical, the dreary classroom and Miss Trunchbull are all greys and browns. In contrast, the sets of the library, Matilda’s fantastical stories and her home are bright and colourful. Her mother, an aspiring dancer (played by Emily Squibb), her flamboyant dance partner (Ryan Anderson) and Matilda’s father, a dishonest car dealer (Matthew Rowland) are over-the-top, petty and slapstick characters that make you laugh out loud. The extravagant displays are a feast for the eyes and Miss Trunchbull is as revolting as can be. The choreography is breathtaking, as the cast stomp, climb, vault and swing their way to a spirited performance amid swings, desks and chairs, nimble and agile amid the organised chaos even as they break out in chorus. Even the towering Miss Trunchbull, hilariously yet perfectly cast in the very male Wolstenholme (‘supported’ in his role by huge prosthetics on his chest) does an unimaginably graceful somersault in the gym. 

The young cast is amazingly nimble as they leap and dance effortlessly among the desks and chairs. Photo © Hanan Assor.

There are also some poignant and contemplative moments in Matilda The Musical though, such as the kids wistfully singing “When I Grow Up” and thinking they will “eat sweets everyday” and “have treats everyday” when we adults know that getting older may not be much better. Every child will find someone who recognises the best in him/her, and Miss Honey is the mentor who immediately knows that Matilda is special, but has struggles and confidence issues of her own. The meek and oppressed Ms Honey finds consolation in simple pleasures like just having a home. Singing the soulful “My House”, she says that “it isn’t much, but it is enough for me.” Meanwhile, Matilda has the drive and guts to know that just because life is not fair, “it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it”. We in the audience are thus forced to reflect and confront the great conundrum in life–to fight back, or to take adversity on the chin and wear it in acceptance like her teacher? If we choose the latter, nothing will change, as Matilda chimes to remind us.

Miss Honey is that special someone who brings out the best in Matilda. Photo © Hanan Assor.

Ultimately, at least where this production is concerned, it is Matilda’s defiance that will be everyone’s gain. Matilda The Musical is a powerful story with simple but timeless lessons, suitable for young and old. Whether it is the triumph of good over evil, the power of faith and determination, or simply the joys of a wild imagination and the value of reading in building a child’s knowledge, you will find something in this story that will resonate with you. For younger children, it may be a challenge for them to follow the story if they are not familiar with Dahl’s book, as the sets segue between Matilda’s reality and fantasy–parents could take this chance to encourage them to do some reading. But for most of the audience, the sight and sounds of the feisty children ousting their tyrannical headmistress are probably enough to leave you irresistibly charmed and cheering at the curtain call, like we did.

Matilda The Musical runs Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays (2pm and 8m) and Sundays (1pm and 6.30pm) at the Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are on sale at Marina Bay Sands Ticketing and SISTIC


About Author

When not checking out new hotels or restaurants, Singapore-based writer Fen spends her time reading obsessively about and travelling to destinations with unpronounceable names. She also can't stop getting sentimental about vanishing trades and documenting them for posterity.

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