Matilda The Musical writer says all children are naughty, just like in the show’s famous song

Matilda The Musical has many children among its cast members. PHOTO: HANAN ASSOR

SINGAPORE – For British writer Dennis Kelly, all children are naughty. Why? Because they are curious.

The 53-year-old, who wrote the book of Matilda The Musical, tells The Straits Times over a Zoom call recently from London: “I cannot imagine a child who is not naughty. They are always testing boundaries. It is part of their development as human beings.”

The West End and Broadway musical, which first opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010, is returning for a second run at the Sands Theatre from March 9 to April 7. The musical, which is based on the 1988 novel Matilda by British author Roald Dahl, was first staged here in 2019.

One of its most famous numbers is the spunky song Naughty, where the sharp-minded heroine advocates taking control of the narrative if one wants to change one’s situation in life.

The theme of naughtiness is something both parents and children can relate to, says Kelly, who has a four-year-old daughter with his wife, television producer Katie Swinden.

For example, when he is giving the girl a bath, she will splash around even after he specifically tells her not to.

“She does things which are naughty all the time. As a parent, it can be very frustrating, especially when she is being deliberately irritating. What I have to understand is that it is not personal,” he says.

“I personally do not believe in punishing children,” he adds. “Although it is not easy, we will find out what the problem is without punishing her.”

“After all, a child is still figuring things out and she can do it in a safe space with us, her parents.”

And although every day comes with some conflict with his child, he says: “It is not about winning the battle. It is about losing it with love.”

While some reports say the musical appears to be set in the 1970s, Kelly clarifies that he did not set it in any particular time period.

“The characters wheel out a television and it vaguely looks like it is from the 1970s. But other than that, who knows when the musical is set? Matilda’s parents (played by cast members Matthew Rowland and Emily Squibb) have got crazy hair and big checked suits – I do not know what that world is.”

British writer Dennis Kelly wrote the book of Matilda The Musical. PHOTO: MATILDA THE MUSICAL SINGAPORE 2024

In any case, Matilda’s situation, where her parents cannot appreciate her talents, is still relevant today.

“Our society asks parents to be more enlightened now. But the people we love most are also the easiest for us not to listen to.”

The production is noted for featuring several child actors, such as Yolani Balfour, Donna Craig and Myla Williams, who will play the title role in Singapore.

The ensemble also includes many other children and this presents extra challenges.

“They need to have chaperons, be looked after, do their schoolwork and can work only for a certain number of hours a day. The girls playing Matilda also need to be able to sing, dance and understand the story, which is not an easy thing to do,” he says.

“It is important to note that the people playing Matilda are children and not grown actors. But I have also seen this amazing enthusiasm from the kids. There is no child there who does not want to be there.”

Kelly also wrote the screenplay for the 2022 musical film of the same name, which is based on the stage musical and stars British actors Stephen Graham and Emma Thompson, with Irish singer-actress Alisha Weir portraying Matilda.

Although the film’s release on Netflix renewed interest in the stage production, the two works are different in that film is a very literal medium, while theatre is a metaphorical one.

“On stage, you can see an actor play two different parts. We do not need to see a scene depicted realistically, unlike in film.”

Recent years have seen many of Dahl’s other works adapted to the screen. For example, the dark fantasy-comedy-horror film The Witches (2020), which features Hollywood star Anne Hathaway, is based on the 1983 novel of the same name.

Wonka (2023), which stars American-French actor Timothee Chalamet, tells the origin story of Willy Wonka, one of the characters in the novel Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (1964).

Asked which of Dahl’s works he would adapt if he had the chance, Kelly says: “I don’t think I would do another one because I am very pleased with the one I did.

“But I really love the novel Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator (1972), a sequel to the 1964 book. That might be something nice to try. But I don’t know how you would do it though – it all takes place in a lift.”

Book it/Matilda The Musical

Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue
When: March 9 to April 7, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays, 2 and 8pm; Sundays, 1 and 6.30pm
Admission: $68 to $253 from Marina Bay Sands’ website ( or Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

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