‘Matilda Jr.’ Displays the Importance of Theatre by Young Performers


The cast of Matilda Jr. singing “The Smell of Rebellion” at Kingsbury Hall. (Courtesy Todd Collins Photography)

By Evan K. Beesley, Arts Writer


Based on the classic story by Roald Dahl, the University of Utah’s Youth Theatre production of “Matilda Jr.” at Kingsbury Hall, follows a young, special girl named Matilda who uses her miraculous mind and imaginative stories to save herself and fellow students from an oppressive school headmistress and her own imbecilic parents.

Although “Matilda” is a fun jovial tale with many upbeat tunes, clever lines and outrageous circumstances, it is, at its heart, a story of perseverance, confidence and the importance of love in the classroom. These factors feel especially prescient with a cast from the Youth Theatre Program, with adult roles filled by students in the Department of Theatre. Watching adolescents perform this powerful story brought me back to my days as a youth in theatre, and reminded audiences of the life-long impact the arts have on people of all ages.

The Deeper Meanings of Matilda

Like most of Dahl’s work, difficult life lessons and traumatic circumstances are baked into layers of frivolity and whimsy that make his stories accessible to all audiences. “Matilda” is no exception to this, and the serious nature and scintillating plot lines that weave throughout the show work wonderfully. One of my favorite plots lines in the show is Ms. Honey’s battle for emotional liberation from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her aunt Trunchbull, beginning the process of standing up for herself with the help of Matilda.

The song “Naughty” provides an anthem to stand up and fight for what is right in the clever lyric, “Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it!”  This message is made especially powerful with a chorus of children singing about the power of self-reliance and standing up against tyranny in the song “Revolting Children.”

A Star-Studded Cast

While it was endearing to see students from around the Salt Lake Valley perform with the vibrancy and enthusiasm this show requires, it was the leads who really brought it home for me. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Zyena Tolhurst and Grayson Kamal) brought a funny, but malevolent edge to the show. Tolhurst’s random fits of dancing were particularly amusing.

Matilda’s school teacher, Ms. Honey (Langley Hayman) offered a sweet and melodic character — Hayman’s voice soared through the score and her dedication to the character and her respective arc made the wholesome conclusion all the more fulfilling.

The stand-out performance of the night, however, had to be Sophia Campagna as the domineering, hammer-throwing headmistress Agatha Trunchbull. Sporting delightfully hideous makeup and a tight high bun, her voice was lyrical with a brutish edge. Although she is the villain of the story, I couldn’t help but adore as Campagna stalked around the stage after her triumphant solos. Though the production may have had some difficulties on the technical side, it was brought home by the dedication of its performers and the tender aspects of the story. 

The Promise of Youth Theatre

While watching the production, I was reminded of youth shows I participated in, and the safe haven theatre was for me and many others. Youth theatre is a terrific playground where adolescents can learn to express themselves and blossom into who they truly are.

Sure, the dance steps won’t be perfect and some notes will be out of tune, but we as the audience get to witness their growth, and seeing their smiling faces brought me as much joy as they were performing with. And that’s what theatre is all about — allowing the audience to feel something even just for a moment. To smile. To laugh. To cry. This production of “Matilda Jr.” did just that. 


Though the run of “Matilda Jr.” was short-lived, the audience was filled with children and adults alike, perhaps being the children’s first theatrical experience and hopefully not their last. Although it may seem strange to actively attend a show with young performers you don’t know, it is so important that we support these spaces for them to tell stories and make art. 

The U’s Department of Theatre continues their season with “Illyria” playing in the Babcock Theatre from March 25 to April 3.


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