Last month, Sing Space student, Iso, aged 10, opened in the West End production of Matilda, playing the title role. I went to see her and she was everything a Matilda should be: brave, instinctive, strong, big- hearted, vulnerable and precise.
She nailed it.
But, like Matilda, behind Iso’s polished performance, there’s another story.
Why, when we teach so many talented youngsters, was it Iso who went all the way and ended up under the spotlight in a West End theatre, playing opposite some of the greatest performers of our generation, including Gina Beck (Miss Honey) and Robert Compton (Mr Wormwood)?
Tim Minchin and the RSC’s Matilda the Musical has caused great frenzy in young singers. Every coach has the sheet music within arms' reach at all times: 'Naughty,' 'Quiet,' 'When I Grow Up.' These are songs that talk to young people, with their rousing melodies, smart lyrics and themes of taking control of your own destiny.
'Naughty,' is about writing your own story, ‘When I Grow up,’ is about creating the future, and, ‘Quiet’ explores the overwhelming multitude of questions that life can throw at us.
We’ve run two Matilda theatre camps, led by Lucy Thatcher, who covered and played Mrs Wormwood in the original production, and our concerts never fail to feature a song or two from the show.
So, rewind to six months ago and was Iso standing out as a potential West End Star?
The honest answer is, no.
I first met her when she stood in for her older sister’s singing lesson about a year ago. She was about four feet tall and looked up at me with her big intense eyes. She told me firmly that she was a, 'rubbish singer.'
We explored this.
Her initial conclusion was flawed. She was a nice singer. She had a sweet little voice, be it so quiet that I had to turn the keyboard volume down to near zero. She was critical of herself, viewing her voice with a mixture of baffled embarrassment and detached surprise.
At the end of her first number (Flashlight by Jessie J) she reluctantly agreed that she wasn’t total rubbish, but said she still wasn’t convinced.
I sat her at the piano - aware that she was a confident pianist - and she tried again, playing her own chords which seemed to take the pressure off herself. For the next few months, she sang only when she was at the piano. In her first concert with The Sing Space, she sang 'City of Stars'; a diminutive thing, dwarfed by a full size keyboard and the arching dome of the church.
And then the change came.
One lesson, around six months ago, I suggested that she went up for Matilda. She is a super smart kid, her voice was getting stronger by the week, she had a natural inclination to connecting emotionally with music and lyrics, and she was between 8 and 12 years and under 4 ft 3" (the casting criteria).
I explained to her mum not to get her hopes up, and reiterated firmly that this was an adventure and a bit of a ‘challenge.’
Little did I know that Iso would take this challenge and face it, like a fighter in the ring, eyeball to eyeball, with the grit and tenacity of a thousand armies! Little did I know that - as we discussed the application process - she was already standing on the West End stage in her mind and that, to get there, she was going to work with a ferocity and dedication that would be, frankly, awe inspiring.
Iso started to move through the many audition rounds. She was inhaling every bit of advice the creative team offered her, bringing herself to the material with nuance, bravery and a relentless commitment to becoming the best singer and actress she could be.
Within about six weeks, the shy student who had called herself a 'rubbish singer,' was looking like the poster girl from Matilda and the culmination of her efforts was inevitable.
Her hard work and bravery took her there. That, and her ability to dream big. She set her goal high, right up there with the stars and the moon and - with immense grit and focus - she climbed towards it, never looking back.
So, if you’re thinking, ‘Can I do it?’ then do it!
Don't look at where you are right now.
Instead, look at where you want to be and what it is that you can do to get there.
‘Nobody but me is going to change my story,' Matilda sings, 'Just because you're little you can do a lot. You mustn't let a little thing like little stop you!'