James Millar is a tall man in real life, but when he walks out on the stage as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical the audience can be heard gasping at his imposing figure. Trunchbull’s custom-made, padded jacket creates a ridiculous exaggeration of a body and yet is surprisingly convincing.
Millar said that while most children in the audience are delighted by Miss Trunchbull, there have been two occasions where children have been frightened and had to be taken outside. He hopes he hasn’t traumatised them for life.
“Both those times the child screamed and I wonder if they’ll ever come back to a theatre again!” admits Millar with a laugh, but says that most children are delighted by hating her (Trunchbull).
The stage show character of Trunchbull is a comic villain, according to James Millar, “She’s got a sort of Noel Coward-esque wit about her and a way with words and a way with the English language that is enjoyable and light.”
Millar doesn’t want his performance of Trunchbull to simply be a man wearing a women’s outfit and making a joke of it. He recalls what he loved as a child reading the book of Matilda was how terrifying Trunchbull was, so he wants his character to be scary as well, to ensure the musical has its villain.
The process of getting ready for the role takes quite some time each performance and as Millar watches the moles go on, then the wig and the padding, he says Trunchbull “sort of arrives on him”.
“It only takes looking in the mirror and no longer recognising myself to know who I have to be,” said Millar.
While Millar and the rest of the adult cast are performing eight shows a week, they have a set of four Matildas and a range of children to work with. I asked Millar what it was like working with a different cast each night.
“That was something, that when we first started rehearsals, I was extremely worried about. I thought, ‘Will I be thrown when it changes each night?’ As actors working with adult casts, we’re used to working with the same rhythms, the same faces, night after night after night. But the rehearsal period was so thorough and we had so much time to work through with each set of kids … and the structure of the rehearsals themselves was so thorough that the kids don’t differ or stray from each other’s paths. It’s quite regimented,” explained Millar.
“They all bring a different energy, but each step goes in exactly the same place. It’s actually a joy and it makes working for this long far less, possibly, relentless, because you have a new burst of energy and burst of joy from people who haven’t been doing it every night. It becomes a special occasion for them and so it becomes a special occasion for us too,” he added.
There is one word that audiences have come to associate with the character of Trunchbull: maggots. It’s a word used frequently throughout the show. It’s also a word that has now become a daily part of James Millar’s life.
“I’m actually wearing a t-shirt my mum had made for me that has the word Maggots!” laughed Millar.
It’s also a word the kids use backstage to call him.
“They love using it back at me!”
Millar’s favourite line of the musical comes during his favourite scene.
“I absolutely love doing the Bruce Bogtrotter scene, where she force feeds him the chocolate cake. That’s my favourite part of the show, but my favourite line is when she says, ‘You should have thought of that before you made a pact with Satan and decided to steal my cake.’ The level of exaggeration within that drama is extremely enjoyable!”
Playing the villain of the show, of course, brings the possibility of being booed by the audience during the curtain calls, but this has yet to happen to James Millar, much to his disappointment.
“I was promised that I would be booed, but no, it hasn’t happened. My mother’s come along a few times and I instructed her to boo loudly, but she hasn’t. I want to be booed but no, I get clapped loudly. I think they appreciate the work of the actor inside but one day I would like to be booed,” explained Millar.
“The next time you come you have to boo loudly! Instruct them to boo loudly, I would love that!”
Matilda the Musical arrives at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre from March 13th.
For more information and tickets: http://au.matildathemusical.com/