When I was a little girl, I read voraciously, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda was a particular favourite of mine. We watched the movie on our giant boxy television over and over again; my dad found that I’m big, you’re small speech that Danny DeVito does hilarious, and can probably still recite it.
Most kids read Roald Dahl growing up, and Tim Minchin is no exception. Matilda and Me follows his journey from a (by all accounts) unremarkable child to the musical and comedic sensation he is today, and his long relationship with Matilda to the opening of Matilda the stage musical in Sydney, for which he wrote the music. (Did you know that when he was younger, he asked the Dahl estate whether he could adapt Matilda for stage, and they wrote back? Or that he can’t read or write sheet music?)
The documentary is written, narrated, produced and co-directed by Minchin’s sister, Nel Minchin, which adds an extra, personal level of insight into the man, who many simply know as the guy who wrote that song about Cardinal Pell, or the guy with the eyeliner and the hair that sings funny songs. Less well known is the fact that he struggled to make a living with music for years, and was close to giving up when he catapulted to fame at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (on right now).
Matilda and Me sets his personal life – aided with intimate interviews with his family members, friends, and colleagues – against preparation for Matilda‘s opening night in Sydney. Interviews include Roald Dahl’s wife Felicity, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mara Wilson, the Matilda from the 1996 film. These all work towards painting a picture of Tim Minchin the musician, as well as Tim Minchin the person.
The lead up to opening night is a great counterpoint to the narrative of Minchin’s life: we get to see him in action, at arguably the prime of his career, helping children who are at the start of theirs. The Matildas (there are several) are dynamos, the classic triple threats. It’s a demanding role, but watching the children rehearse and muck around with Minchin, there’s not a doubt that they’re more than capable of taking it on.
Minchin talks about the naughtiness of Roald Dahl books – all about kids triumphing over adults, and about being messy and childish in the best ways. He offers insights into Matilda, often derived from his own experiences, and by the end of the documentary, you’ll wonder how anyone other than Minchin could have ever been considered to write the musical he was so clearly meant to write.
Matilda and Me airs on ABC TV on April 3, at 7.40pm.