Be a little bit naughty: Matilda The Musical is a lesson for worn-out adults

Matilda The Musical reminds us that it’s okay to hold onto one’s playful innocence

“When I grow up, I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown up,” she sang wistfully.

The soulful and plaintive refrain by Miss Jennifer Honey — the kind teacher in ‘Matilda The Musical’ — was a soaring line so powerful that it stirred something in me.

Watching this pivotal scene in the musical’s gala premiere on 12 March, I felt my heart swell and my eyes well up. 

The scene with Miss Honey (Gina Beck) was made all the more tender when I looked at my six-year-old (incidentally, my companion for the show). 

The allure of a child’s innocence

A bright young ingenue and a witty little girl whose company I thoroughly enjoy — it was like getting a front row seat to what I had lost, and what I should have tried harder to retain.

Like the titular character, my daughter is a precocious, determined young lady. 

Sure, she doesn’t have the trying family circumstances that Matilda (played by Yolani Balfour in the performance I saw) had to endure. Matilda, wise beyond her years, had to find ways to overcome a fraught home life by relying on her vivid imagination and love of books.

Photo courtesy of Hanan Assor.

Still, I see bits of childlike wonder, curiosity, kindness and joy in my daughter — a spirit untainted by the world.

Similar to the exuberance of the musical’s ensemble, she, too, harbours simple hopes of being big enough to eat what she wants and sleep whenever she wants.

(Balfour was the perfect Matilda, by the way. A tiny dynamo who hit every note with the perfect mix of spunk and gravity, she was the epitome of the fiery, resilient character from British author Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s novel.

Equally brilliant was James Wolstenholme, who plays Miss Trunchbull, the cruel, pompous headmistress at Matilda’s school. Pitch-perfect, slightly unhinged and absolutely entertaining in his no-holds-barred performance — he’s a highlight of the production, now showing at Sands Theatre.)

Matilda The Musical

Photo courtesy of Hanan Assor.

Song about children’s aspirations in Matilda The Musical hits home

Miss Honey’s lilting vibrato — which exuded just the right amount of sorrow and poignancy — conveyed every fatigued adult’s lost hope and dreams. 

It resonated as it drew attention to something I had buried deep. 

Unknowingly, in the blink of an eye, I’ve grown up. I am undeniably, deep in the trenches of being ‘of age’, battling mundane adulting issues and feeling tired all the time. 

It’s already well-known that we are a nation filled with exhausted and emotionally-drained individuals. According to HR solutions company Employment Hero’s 2022 Wellness at Work report, 62% of respondents said they had experienced burnout.

In a report by UK bedding manufacturer Sleepseeker, Singapore came up tops in a list of 15 most-fatigued cities.

Growing up, this daily exhausting hustle probably wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself.

Where did my childhood innocence and dreams of a heady fun-filled life go? Oh, to go back to a time when all we wanted was to eat sweets every day and go to bed late.

Matilda The Musical

Photo courtesy of Hanan Assor.

Instead, life got in the way. I’ve lost my sense of wonder and adventure, and the ability to be spontaneous — no rocking the boat and doing whatever I wanted; more urgent responsibilities are calling. 

Keeping my little humans alive, working enough to keep up with the rising cost of living — it’s important to be practical, I thought to myself.

This wariness bled into other parts of my life. I’m terrified of roller coasters, something I once sought with giddy excitement. I wouldn’t dare leap off a swing — a feat the musical’s ensemble does spectacularly. I’m relieved when I cross the road and survive.

Increasingly, I found myself doing things that kept my feet “inside the line”, as Miss Trunchbull would extol. 

Don’t get me wrong, life with my kids brings me immense joy, and I have a job I love. Practicality isn’t bad — one can’t always be larking around. 

And yes, there’s joy to be had in the simple pleasures of life — getting enough sleep, for instance, or getting enough quality time with my husband.

But if there’s anything ‘Matilda The Musical’ has taught me, it’s that it doesn’t hurt to be a little naughty sometimes. 

Living life with childlike wonder

It’ll soon be my daughter’s time to shine, to build her own life as the main character of her story. 

I hope when her time comes, she will manage to hold on to the sparkle in her eye, and live each day with fearlessness.

Meanwhile, it’s time for me to take a leaf out of the book of these hopeful young children — to live a little and seek more for my life. 

Perhaps I should seriously consider joining my daughter in ballet, or go for that Master’s degree I’d always wanted, which would shift me in a completely different direction.

“Even if you’re little, you can do a lot,” sang Matilda. 

I certainly feel little in many ways these days. But it’s not too late — there’s still time to live a larger life.

Hopefully, I get to finish my years filled with days that bring me fulfillment and a deep contentment that I had done everything right.

Although, I’m still not getting on a roller coaster any time soon. 

Matilda The Musical is produced by GWB Entertainment in association with The Royal Shakespeare Company, and presented by BASE Entertainment Asia. It will run at Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, until 7 April. Tickets available at Sistic and Marina Bay Sands.

Also read: Opinion: The widely panned ‘Madame Web’ is actually pretty decent — if watched with no expectations

Opinion: The widely panned ‘Madame Web’ is actually pretty decent — if watched with no expectations

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Featured image adapted from images courtesy of Hanan Assor.

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