Matthew Warchus, Director of Matilda the musical, said at the Olivier Awards this year that like for the character of Matilda, the creative imagination is the key to surviving life. Matilda escapes her difficult life, where she is persecuted by her parents for her love of reading, by opening a book to access another world that in turn opens her mind. Matilda feels she can be who she is through books.
In today’s world, children are encouraged at school to be someone – the trend in life is to become someone – rather than establish who you are: you are already someone! Celebrity, and Reality TV emphasises the need to be someone – to have great expectations that you can do anything. But, what about the everyday person who quietly and genuinely goes about their everyday life – just being themselves – trying to be real. Matilda could be herself, and feel that her realness and indeed her reality, mattered, through her immersion in books.
Essentially it is better to be a ‘real nobody’ rather than a ‘fake somebody’ – to steal these two phrases from the film The Talented Mr Ripley spoken by Tom Ripley – Matt Damon (although Tom thinks the reverse and prefers to be a fake somebody).
The extremity of the power of masks (Tom Ripley wears one throughout the film) can be seen to frightening measures in the sketches of Spanish artist Francisco Goya. Goya made a series of 80 etchings in 1799 called Los Caprichos (‘Capricho’ can be translated as ‘whim’, ‘fantasy or expression of the imagination’). Goya has the courage to depict human beings at their most grotesque – when humans spend so much time ‘unbeing’ themselves that the effects on their identity make for shocking viewing:
Goya does what Matilda does and uses his imagination to expose others and speak the truth. He says: ‘The world is a masquerade. Looks, dress and voice, everything is only pretension. Everyone wants to appear to be what he is not. Everyone is deceiving, and no one ever knows himself.’
To turn to another artist, Giorgio Agamben, in his book ‘Man Without Content’, thinks that art opens up reality – it opens a space. Art is the space between the melody of everyday life – like a grace note in music. It is where the little bits of truth come in and arrest us from the actuality of life. It reminds us that we are ‘in-between’ this life and possibly something other. Art is the suspension and without this, life is mechanical. Suspension doesn’t mean a rejection or a moving away from real life: a piece of music is not that same piece of music without the grace notes; it is the grace notes – the space – that make the music what it is. A suspension is just a bridge between actuality and possibility, and potentiality.
I will hold on to Matilda’s courage at being herself and showing others up through what she loves most: in the end her creativity pushes Miss Trunchball away and inspires others to stand up to the people and powers that crush them.