‘Matilda the Musical’ was the magical tonic our community needed after multiple lockdowns and virtual performances impacted the past two Senior Years Productions.
Directed by Drama teacher Olivia Wilson, the popular musical was brought to life by students from Years 9 to 12, with major roles being shared across multiple year levels. 30 MGGS students, with support from Melbourne Grammar, made up our talented cast, while more than 25 students made up our wonderful backstage crew, assisting with various roles.
The cast and crew gave the popular musical, based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel, a unique MGGS take, transporting our audience into the life of Matilda Wormwood, a precocious five-year-old girl with a vivid imagination, a love of reading, and some extraordinary powers. The story explored themes of loyalty, love and family, reward versus punishment, greed, and control and agency.
This production was originally to run over two nights, but the show’s ticket sales proved so popular with our community that an extra night had to be added, which built the excitement up more for our Senior Years students as they returned to the Ross Hall stage.
We spoke to members of the cast and backstage crew about their experiences working on ‘Matilda the Musical’.
When Year 10 student Isabella initially found out she was to play the lead role of Matilda, she had a mix of emotions.
“I was really struggling with actually connecting the fact I was going to play Matilda, one of the most well-known characters a child can play in a musical,” she said.
“I’d seen the play itself when it came to Melbourne so I was really excited because I thought that this was such a great opportunity. I was really humbled by the fact I’d been chosen to play her.
“Being a role of such a demanding calibre and because of the high standards that were expected of me, I was really stressed but also excited that I’d been given this opportunity.”
To alleviate her stress and ensure she put on her best version of Matilda, Isabella read the script “almost daily” to nail her lines, understanding of stage directions and interactions with other characters. She also watched the 1996 film and other performances online to help her discover what she wanted to bring to the role.
“Matilda is a very interesting character because she’s so energetic, but she also has that side to her where no one really knows unless she’s willing to let them in and tell them about it,” Isabella explains.
“It was about finding the right amount of energy and excitement but also using those moments where you need a bit of pathos, and you needed to bring it down to show the truth behind the character and their thoughts.”
“It was very important to ensure I got that balance.”
When it came to performing, Isabella was confident and felt she had done everything possible to prepare. She worked with her teachers, the director and fellow cast members to build confidence and overcome her biggest challenge – the doubts that kept creeping into her mind.
The 15-year-old learnt a lot from her experience, discovering what goes into creating a well-known musical and seeing all the teams – producers, directors, cast, music and backstage – come together to bring it to life.
Isabella’s highlight was the tight-knit cast, who she enjoyed spending time and creating lasting memories and friendships with.
The Clarke House student’s advice for future Grammarians playing a lead role is to be grateful for the opportunity, to take it in their stride and do their best with whatever method they use to bring the character to life.
The Last Hurrah
The fourth and final MGGS production for Year 12 Grammarian Hannah was both an exhilarating and bittersweet experience.
The 2022 Drama Co-Captain, who is in her final year at MGGS, played Matilda’s classmate and best friend Lavender in this year’s production.
“It was really exhilarating and a fun opportunity to have a little break from schoolwork,” she said.
“I’m very passionate about dancing and singing, and I really enjoyed building friendships with the younger girls. It was just such a fun role to play.”
Hannah said her emotions and those of her cast members spilt over after the curtains closed for the final show.
“I was quite sad about it. On the last show, everyone was quite emotional, everyone was crying, and I cried with happiness,” she said.
“I was quite sad it was over as it was a great thing to do in my final year. It was quite fun as well playing a younger person’s role because it required a lot of energy.
“I got to be in a lot of the singing and dancing numbers, as well as having a couple of lines. Lavender is quite a cheeky character with the magic of the newt (in Miss Trunchbull’s drink), so it was quite fun.”
The 17-year-old said she watched the 1996 film several times to ensure she captured the energy of Lavender.
She said balancing the demands of Year 12 and preparing for her role was the biggest challenge and learning experience she had.
“It changed my idea that it is not always too much in Year 12,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, the production is a lot of work’, but it changed my idea that it’s actually nice to have that balance.
“It made me much more confident knowing I can balance both.”
Hannah, whose personal highlight was the first rehearsal and seeing the show’s immense talent, encouraged others to audition for the next Senior Years Production, no matter the role.
Lighting it Up
Year 10 students Sabienne and Isla will never forget their first time as backstage crew members.
The duo worked alongside Audio/Visual Technician Mark Thompson as lighting operators.
Sabienne labelled her first production as part of the backstage crew, which featured more than 25 students, as “an incredible experience”.
“Most believe that being on stage is the best part; however, I would say quite the opposite. Being on the technical side of a production presents new ways to learn and still find that sense of community that a production brings,” she said.
“Before the shows, we would all gather in the music department, play songs on the piano, and sing along together. That is a feeling that is unmatched by anything I’ve ever done.
“The connection and power of how moving it is to find such an amazing team and cast is something I’m forever grateful for.”
Isla said most of the nights went off without a hitch apart from a challenging night three, which proved to be an important learning experience for the pair.
“During one of our performances, we had lost several of our lighting cues and had to patch them live,” she said.
“Although being stressful, this experience allowed us to gain further knowledge on lighting and how to work fast and effectively under pressure.
“Through taking this initiative, Sabienne and I were able to quickly fix the issue. Additionally, understanding that everyone working on the production will encounter issues makes working together easier.”
Isla said the production enabled her and Sabienne to build skills such as time management, teamwork, cooperation, and mutual support.
Sabienne encouraged others who may be interested in having a go at being part of the backstage crew.
“There is something for everyone, from backstage to props, sound and lighting. It is a great way to find a new community and love for a production,” she said.
“If you are looking for something new, the theatre kids are always happy to have you.”