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Interview: Landi Oshinowo Chats The 10th Anniversary of MATILDA THE MUSICAL

Oshinowo plays Mrs Phelps in the West End production

Matilda the Musical
Landi Oshinowo in Matilda The Musical

As the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of Matilda The Musical heat up in the West End, we spoke to Landi Oshinowo, who plays Mrs Phelps, Matilda's local librarian, in the Cambridge Theatre production. Known for her work in shows such as The Colour Purple, Ain't Misbehavin' and Big Fish, Landi told us all about working with children on and off stage, her favourite lines in the show, and why people love it so much.

Do you feel like your performance has changed since you started? Not only has some time passed, but we've also experienced a pandemic since then!

I've been in the show since 2019 - and absolutely. I think my performance has evolved. People ask how we feel about doing the show night after night, doing the same thing over and over again, do we get bored? I always respond that I never get bored during the show, it's such a joy to be able to do what you love. You also find new ways to do the same thing, different reactions, nuances to a character. It's never the same every night. You keep it fresh.

Did you read the book when you were a child or did you see the film? Were you aware of Matilda before you got cast?

I saw the film, like many others did, so I knew the story. But, actually, the story on stage is very different from the film. What we do on stage in the theatre is closer to the book. It's the same content, though. Matilda lives with slightly mean parents, has a mean headmistress, and magical powers. She wins the day by the end of it all!

Your character is very special: she's the first grown-up who sees Matilda's potential and encourages her to pursue what she loves. I feel like we all have at a certain point in life our own Mrs Phelps. Who was yours?

My drama teacher was very influential to me. She left a mark, a truly joyous one. She encouraged me to do what I loved to do. I was allowed to be myself in her class; she got the best out of me. It's very important to have someone who encourages you - be it your parents or your teachers. It really is. My music teacher, too, I think. Those two got me on the road to doing what I do today.

What's it like to work with so many children? Do you feel like you have to be your best self at all times?

I think you kind of have to, they look up to you. They're always watching what us adults do. You've got to make sure that you're well-behaved around them - you need to influence them in a positive way. There's definitely a sense of responsibility when we're around the children. I'm with the four Matildas more than anyone else, really, I get to work with them quite closely, especially in rehearsals.

It's our responsibility to look after them, to make sure that they're learning the right things, that they're being influenced by the correct things. Our director also makes sure that the adults are always on their best behaviour when we're around them. No foul language!

During the pandemic I was working in a school for kids with autism, so I was once again working with children when the theatres were dark. That was a huge responsibility. A really rewarding responsibility, but a huge one nonetheless. I hadn't had much experience of it before that. It made me appreciate what I do now, coming back to work with children, a lot more.

Children are amazing. They're incredibly intelligent, so much more than people credit them for. It was an eye-opener. Coming back to the show after that break gave me a sense of appreciation and joy for what I do.

Matilda the Musical
Alyssa D'Souza as Matilda
and Landi Oshinowo as Mrs Phelps

What's your favourite thing about the show?

There's so many little things! I love the stage, the design is just amazing. It's like a Scrabble box exploded. I love the fact that we get to go to a birthday party every single day, because that's how the show starts. My costume is absolutely crazy, it's colourful, it's eccentric, and it's who Mrs Phelps is, so I love it. I love working with the kids. The Matildas. All of them, really!

They're such great little actors and actresses. They're the ones to watch for the future. They're the next acting generation. Oh, and I love that we all get to go on scooters at the end - it's so much fun! And I love the song "When I Grow Up".

Do you have a favourite line in the show?

It comes in different ways, but my character is always asking for a story and because Mrs Phelps is Caribbean, the way she pronounces it is everything. She's always asking Matilda to tell her a story. It has to be one of my favourite things that I say. Another favourite line of mine is from Matilda herself when she says "That's not right!". It sums up everything about what's going on around her and why she is the way she is.

We're now celebrating the show's 10th anniversary. Why do you think people love it so much?

I think they love the fact that this little child who reminds them of when they were children is trying to navigate her own way through life. She's trying to get love from her parents, she's trying to nurture her relationship with her teacher. She loves stories, the magic and wonder of books.

They also recognise that she does get bullied, but she's not afraid to speak her mind. She wins the day and defends others bravely. She's a little hero. She might seem a little strange, but she's got a big heart. If you pull her apart scientifically, she's using more of her brain capacity than maybe other kids. The adversities of being a young child are intense. At the very heart of it, we all want to be loved and feel safe and happy. That always resonates with people.

Matilda The Musical is now booking through the end of 2022 at the Cambridge Theatre.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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