Considering the sheer amount of tongue-twisting lyrics the actor performing the role of Matilda had to memorise, it truly takes a gifted child like, well, Matilda, to pull it off. During the opening night of Matilda The Musical last Tuesday, Singaporean Sofia Poston took to the stage as main lead to great cheering from her schoolmates from United World College.
At only age nine, Poston delivered her lines with accuracy, aplomb and pluck.
But did you know who got the second-most applause that night? It was the brawny Ms Trunchbull, played by British actor Ryan De Villiers in a fat suit. He was terrifying and hilarious in turns, dressed in the standard Trunchbull uniform of breeches and khaki trench. From the moment “she” said to Miss Honey (Bethany Dickson): “Well don’t just stand there like a wet tissue, get on with it,” I knew that Trunchbull was going to be my favourite character onstage.
De Villiers was outstanding on a kaleidoscopically kiddish stage in his Trunchbull getup – severe bun, starched outfit and bulging calves conveying every bit of the “iron, meat and ox” he has interpreted the sadistic villainess to be. Most of all, “her” hunched shoulders resemble the bristling hackles on the back of an angry hound – Trunchbull’s most distinctive physical trait.
The expressive child actors in the chorus line, in particular the boy who played Nigel that evening (name unknown), made this Roald Dahl classic come alive.
But… Dare I say it? I had expected more of Matilda The Musical. Having heard of the staggering number of awards it has won and numerous rapturous reviews from not just the media but also friends who have seen it in London, I was hoping that the musical would leave us in stitches. Instead, I could barely make out the lyrics, especially the songs performed by the titular character, Matilda. My seven-year-old son and I weren’t the only one. I overheard the girl sitting next to me muttering to her companion: “Actually I couldn’t hear very clearly what she’s singing.”
Which is a huge pity, because with what little lyrics I can cobble together, the songs are in fact witty limericks. From “Naughty”:
Jack and Jill, went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water, so they say
Their subsequent fall was inevitable
They never stood a chance, they were written that way
Innocent victims of their story
Poston is a fantastic singer with great potential, hitting the high notes with perfect pitch. And come on, she is so young. But her inexperience, for now, does show. She is the youngest of all four actresses who will take turns to play Matilda until the musical ends its run on March 17. But honestly, I do wonder if the performance will be different with other three girls who will play Matilda on different days (South Africans Lilla Fleischmann, 14, Morgan Santo, 11, and Kitty Harris, 10).
But if you’re into the spirit of Matilda, the theatre is not Crunchem Hall Elementary, and children should be given a fair chance to grow and blossom. Given such a rare opportunity to perform with a world class production team, Poston is definitely not stuck in a story.
Matilda The Musical will run at the Marina Bay Sands Sands Theatre until March 17. Tickets here.