Childhood Isn’t Magical — Except When it Is
Childhood. It’s a time that many of us idealize. We remember a time when we didn’t have to pay bills, when other people cooked for us, and we were loved unconditionally by doting caregivers. We long for those happy, innocent days, and wish that things could be so simple again. Children’s books and entertainment often depict this type of childhood. Children’s problems are banal; “I don’t like homework. I wish I had a later bedtime. My parents just don’t understand.”
Except that’s not how childhood was for some of us. Some of us DID have to pay bills and cook for ourselves and were in no way loved unconditionally. Our lives were not simple, and neither were our problems. We cannot relate to those kinds of inane entertainment, and the books and movies and plays that show us these hyper-tranquil childhoods irritate us, or bore us, or both.
Matilda Wormwood has a terrible childhood. Her parents do not love her. She has a bully of an older brother, a trashy family, and no one who understands her or appreciates her special gifts. She takes care of herself, cooking, doing chores, and even getting herself into school. And it’s in this school where she finds a kindred spirit in a kind teacher, a scary adversary in the terrifying Ms. Trunchbull, and learns about her magic powers.
The musical version of this story, soon to be on stage at No Square Theatre, promises to be a fun, engaging show for the whole family. It was originally set to open in 2020, but we all know what happened then. According to Ella Wyatt, the artistic director, “We had just cast the show and were supposed to start rehearsals on March 16th, but we all know what happened. Covid hit, and the world shut down. This is our first time having kids in a show at No Square since before the lockdown. I initially chose this show because we had a really strong group of kids in our youth program, so we wanted to expose them to a more professional experience working with adults, as well as bring a youthful energy to our adult actors. The story of Matilda is one that is a favorite of so many adults and children alike, and the score to the musical is so much fun.”
And of course, the show is full of fantastically fun songs that will have you tapping along, and singing in your car on the way home. According to Wyatt, “For personal reasons, I love ‘When I Grow Up.’ It is a song that I have been singing with my kids for the past 5 years or so. There's even an illustrated children's book version of it. There's something so sweet and innocent about small children singing about their futures. In our production, I really enjoy ‘Revolting Children,’ because who doesn't love a rebellion song, and Brandon Berube starts that number so strongly, it really electrifies the energy of the rest of the kids. I also love ‘I'm Here,’ which is a beautiful song between Matilda and the escapologist (played by Ava Madison Gray and Elijah Golembiewski). It is a song about forgiveness and unconditional love, and the two of them sound so lovely together.
I think it was Mo Willems who said that there is no such thing as a good childhood. And when you think about it, it’s true. Even in the best of circumstances, childhood is a time of powerlessness. You are completely subject to the whims of the adults who are supposed to care for you. As a child, you can’t choose where you live, where you go to school, who you associate with, what you wear, or what you eat. Sure, there are benefits to being a minor. But most adults would balk at these kinds of restrictions, even if they didn’t have to pay bills. That’s why the story of Matilda is such a powerful one for children. It reminds them that though they might be small, and young, and in many ways powerless — they still do have power. They just have to find it within themselves.
Ella Wyatt agrees. “I love the themes of writing your own story. While you may not have full control of the hand you are dealt in life and what happens around you, you do have control over how you present yourself in this world - how you choose to feed your mind, how you react to adversity, and how you treat others. Matilda always helps those around her and stands up for what is right, and in doing so, she gives them the courage to speak up for themselves as well.”
Come see “Matilda: the Musical" at No Square Theatre. Unleash your inner Revolting Child.
Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.
“Matilda: the Musical”
No Square Theatre
Legion Hall, 384 Legion Street, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
May 5 - May 14, 2023
(949) 310-6955, www.nosquare.org