“In the slip of a bolt there’s a tiny revolt…”


I’ve just moved from London to Sydney. While I’m still getting used to the humid weather, vicious mosquitoes and startling friendliness, things are going well so far. I have some amazing family and friends over here who’ve gone out of their way to welcome me, help me acclimatise and get me up to speed with the local lingo (I now know that you don’t smoke a ‘Bondi cigar’). So, on an Antipodean tip, I thought I’d use this post to pay tribute to one of the greatest living Australians, the songwriter, actor and atheist troublemaker Tim Minchin.

I’m a fan of his wordy, witty cabaret songs and poems, stuff like Storm, If I Didn’t Have You and White Wine in the Sun. But I want to focus on his work on the ground-breaking RSC musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Have you seen it? I really can’t recommend it highly enough. The blending of Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics with Dennis Kelly’s writing and Matthew Warchus’s direction to tell the story of a bullied schoolgirl who develops Carrie-like powers is absolutely extraordinary.

Despised and unwanted by her parents and subject to the violent whims of the sadistic headmistress Mrs Turnbull, Matilda escapes into books and stories. The show is about the anarchy of childhood and the power of words and ideas to inspire you to take control of your own destiny. It’s a kids’ story with typically nutso Dahl humour but, like much of his writing, from The Twits to Danny Champion of the World, it’s extremely dark.

Matilda’s theme of changing your circumstances and shaping your own life is fascinatingly reflected in the backstory of Tim Minchin’s involvement with the show. Back in the ’90s, as a lifelong fan of the book, he wrote to the Roald Dahl Estate asking for permission to create a musical version. He wasn’t a ‘name’ at that point and the Dahl family asked him to submit a completed script for them to consider. Unwilling/unable to take on such a big project without being paid, he let it go and moved on. A decade later, knowing nothing of this, Matthew Warchus was looking for someone to write the songs for the RSC’s planned adaptation of Matilda and happened to catch the now moderately-successful and well known Tim Minchin’s show. He decided on the spot that Minchin was the man for the job and approached him with an offer. Minchin jumped at the chance and the rest I history.

After opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 Matilda transferred to London in 2011 and won a record-breaking seven Olivier awards. It subsequently opened on Broadway in Spring 2013 and picked up four TONYs and has been described as “The best British musical of all time.” For me, it’s definitely one of the greatest works of creativity in any medium over the last ten years. And further to that, I reckon that both the story of Matilda and the story of Tim Minchin’s involvement in the show offer salutary lessons in the importance of working your arse off, plugging away, playing by your own rules and making your own luck. Or as Matilda herself puts it in Minchin’s Naughty: “But nobody else is gonna put it right for me/Nobody but me is going to change my story/Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!”

About antmelder
Creative Partner at Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder. Passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen; speaker of bad Cantonese.

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