Currently onstage at the Walnut Street Theatre is Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical. This show based on the 1988 book of the same name is about a young girl, Matilda, who loves reading. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and overcomes obstacles in her life while still helping the people in need around her. It is a magnificent musical that both adults and children will enjoy. The musical is an inspiring story and if you have not bought tickets yet I highly recommend it. This is a show that takes the audience on an adventure and one that will touch the hearts of those who see it.
I had the privilege of speaking with Ian Merrill Peakes who portrays Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress at Matilda’s school and he is the antagonist of the story. Peakes is no stranger to those in the Philadelphia area as he has been seen on the stages of the Walnut, the Arden Theatre Company and Lantern Theatre Company to name a few. He spoke about what it is like to play the villain of the story, about what audiences can expect to see and the importance of live theatre.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about Matilda?
Ian Merrill Peakes: The story is based on the book Matilda by Roald Dahl. It is basically about the empowerment of a young girl who overcomes a bully. We are really lucky because we have two phenomenal young actors who play Matilda and it is a joy to watch both of them play this role.
I read this book when I was younger, but in playing the role of Miss Trunchbull I relied on the source material of the script. The musical is about the idea that if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything. Right now stories like this are really important because part of the show is about the untapped power of a young girl. This is a show that adults will like as much as the kids.
Kelli: What can audiences expect when coming to see the show?
Ian: First, people should come to the Walnut to see this because there is nothing like the gift of live theatre. It is an experience unlike any other medium. Also, the Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest continuous running theatre, and if you haven’t been inside this beautiful building you should experience it because there is so much history.
Additionally, Matilda provides many positive messages. It is not just a fun show, but it is a show with a lot of meaning. It is sheer entertainment to watch this cast. And, audiences get to see me dressed as a woman.
Kelli: Could you tell me a little about your character, Miss Trunchbull?
Ian: I have a ten year old son and we discuss bullies frequently, and I explain to him that bullies are bullies for a reason. There is something that has happened to them in their life that make them a bully such as living in an unhappy home. Bullies come from unhappiness.
Miss Trunchbull is a bully. She has lived an unhappy life and when she becomes big and powerful she becomes a bully to those around her. Bullies do not just wake up and become evil. People are not born malevolent, something happens to make them that way. I am fascinated by what makes and creates a bully, and I have spent a lot of time thinking on this as I play Miss Trunchbull.
Kelli: Do you enjoy playing the villain?
Ian: Absolutely! This is one of my favorite experiences. She is lots of fun to play and it is a great experience being onstage and trying to get the audiences on the side of my character in a weird and twisted way. Playing Miss Trunchbull is fun and my job is to make her really entertaining. Also, she is amusing for audiences to watch.
Kelli: How do you prepare yourself to play a role that is so different from yourself?
Ian: When I get a script I treat that script as if it is my Bible. I take that script and read it and dissect it. There is no correlation between me and Miss Trunchbull. To play her before each performance I look at myself in the costume and I play off the wonderful members of this cast.
Kelli: Do you have any favorite songs/moments in the show?
Ian: Yes! I would have to say that one of my favorite moments in the show is the song “When I Grow Up,” which is performed by the children in the show. All the adults tear up watching this number. The song is about the innocence of children and how they expect things to be grand when they grow up, but the reality is that adults have tons of responsibility. One of the things to remember about this show is that it is a show that many people expect to be fluff because it is based on a children’s book, but the show is complex.
Kelli: I have seen you in several roles over the years ranging from Macbeth to Black Stashe. You always manage to make each role unique and put your own spin on it. Could you tell me why it is important as a performer to make this character your own?
Ian: What I have discovered is that the more I can do things I have not done before the more I enjoy the performance and am able to be different in each show. I react to what is happening around me onstage and reacting to the audiences, and therefore every night is a different performance. For me it would be boring if I did the same things over and over again,
Kelli: Why in your opinion is live theatre important?
Ian: Since the dawn of man we have told stories to one another. A few years ago there was this thought that the American Theatre was dying because lack of funding for the Arts. However, live theatre is something that will never go away. It is a cornerstone of our humanity to tell stories. Watch the face of a child the first time they see a show – they are in awe of what they are seeing in front of them. It gives them a sense of empowerment. Also, just the experience of being in a room with other people with no distractions from phones and other devices is a unique experience. Live theatre is important to us as a society and it is not going away anytime soon.
Ian Merrill Peakes can be seen in Matilda at the Walnut Street Theatre through January 6, 2019. For more information and tickets please visit their website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call the box office 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787.
Photos courtesy of Walnut Street Theatre
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.