Tim Minchin is knackered. The trademark ginger, leonine hair lightly more dishevelled than usual, the eyeliner a tad more smeared, but his vivid emerald eyes are still shining. And with good reason.
The hugely-talented cabaret performer (the best way to describe him as his music is too good to be dismissed as distracting novelty but his comedy too clever to be brushed aside as trivial asides) is on a winning streak.
For anyone who’s never seen the 35 year old Australian perform it really is quite something. Part stand up, part spoken word, part full musical set, Tim’s material is intelligent, thoughtful and hilarious, riffing on and subverting the whole rock star imagery to great effect.
From his breakout solo show Darkside which stormed Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 to his upcoming international arena tour and latest show Ready For This? hitting DVD shelves, his feet haven’t touched the ground and he’s starting to feel it.
“I had my first proper full blown migraine for five years yesterday,” he confesses. “I didn’t vomit but it was so familiar, it had been years. I thought if I’m gonna have a migraine I’ve got to get these emails away because I owed my orchestrator’s demos and I’ve just moved house yesterday as well. We’re still unpacking!”
The orchestrator he’s referring to is Chris Nightingale, with whom he has collaborated on his latest project, writing the music and lyrics for the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Opening in Stratford-upon-Avon this month, Tim talks about this experience with the love and passion of someone clearly indulging his musical side to the full.
Despite the fact it was the RSC who approached Tim to collaborate on bringing the celebrated kids novel about a girl with magical powers to the stage, this is not the first time he has set his sights on Matilda.
“I had actually written to the Roald Dahl estate ten years earlier to ask who had the rights to Matilda. I had seen the movie and had just written 1001 Nights for a children’s theatre company in Perth, and I was thinking ‘what could I do now?’”
Given the wealth of stories by Dahl, it is perhaps surprising he had his heart set on adapting this one, one of the great novelist’s later, less well-known works. But for Tim, the reasons are clear, explaining how the story has similarities to hugely successful mainstream works like Harry Potter, rightly suggesting every author who has written books for kids after a certain point in time probably owes a debt to Dahl.
“There’s a kid locked in the basement by parents who hate her. She’s repressed, she meets a teacher she loves, the teacher has an enemy too, she solves problems with her powers, her genius and then eventually her magic.”
So what magic will Tim be sprinkling into the production? For a man whose work is known to subvert musical styles, can we expect more of a pastiche than a straight musical?
“There are moments that definitely are, there’s a Latin number in there but that’s because Mrs Wormwood does dance lessons. It’s all brassy and about her philosophy of that ‘looks are more important than books’, a reference that comes out of the novel. There’s also a celebration song that’s kind of disco but overall it’s a cohesive piece.”
It’s also written with an eleven piece orchestra, which given Tim can’t actually read music, has it’s own challenges and rewards. “There’s a great deal you can do with technology these days so you can just play in all the parts. I think I do enough different things to not worry about not specialising in certain areas but you need someone you trust and Chris is that person.”
“On Saturday the cast first met the band and it all came together for the first time. That has was the best day of my life. It’s wonderful to have written the songs but Chris has just brought this texture and excitement out of it. I’ve had that experience before but not at this scale.”