Meet the former Norwich academy footballer playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda

Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan

Elliot Harper as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

Judy Foster spoke to talented footballer turned Miss Trunchbull Elliot Harper as Matilda the Musical opens at Norwich Theatre Royal.

Elliot Harper Credit: Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal

Elliot Harper Credit: Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

Roald Dahl's classic story is live on stage at Norwich Theatre Royal until August 17 and the UK and Ireland tour follows its ongoing success in London's West End.

The show was first commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in RSC and was written by renowned playwright Dennis Kelly with lyrics and music by Australian comedian Tim Minchin.

The role of terrifying headmistress Agatha Trunchbull will once again be played by a man and actor Elliot Harper is already very familiar with the show as he played the escapologist for two years at the Cambridge Theatre.

As the show begins its run in Norwich, Mr Harper spoke about his surprising links to the city and finding redeeming qualities in one of literature's biggest villans.

What is it like to be part of such a hugely popular show like Matilda?

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It's a wonderful experience in that you are performing alongside lots of children, which is relatively unique in the theatre, and I think it is an amazing thing to be part of.

The spectacle of it and being part of such a big and well-respected show is wonderful and the audience reaction is always fantastic and very rewarding.

It's a really fun show and especially the part I play. I am Miss Trunchbull. She's an iconic character. It's become an iconic part in musical theatre, so I'm very fortunate to have been chosen to do that.

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

You were in Matilda in the West End - what part did you play there?

I played the escapologist when I was in the London show and I did that for two years which was equally rewarding but in a very different way.

You see the show from another perspective and are included in a very different way and of course the characters are wildly different.

READ MORE: Theatre Royal's Matilda The Musical offering £5 tickets

What is it like to play Miss Trunchbull?

Physically it's very demanding - it's very front-footed.

There's a lot of anger there and she is a very complicated character, so there are lots of ups and downs and you have to fill the peaks and troughs that she goes through.

Obviously there's the choreography to consider and certainly singing-wise you need a lot of stamina and that's exhausting in itself, but there are all the other elements that make her one person.

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

So yes, it's a tough role, but there is also something to be really enjoyed about the challenge of that. It is demanding, but equally very fulfilling.

Have you discovered any redeeming qualities in Miss Trunchbull?

It is hard to find any! As an actor you have to try to find some redeeming qualities in the character because you have to sympathise with them to some extent.

I can sympathise with her because it's like a lot of people in life who, I imagine, are who they are because of what has happened to them in their past and certainly I think Agatha was bullied when she was a child and had a particularly hard upbringing.

She was also the second favourite with regard to her relationship with her sister and her parents didn't necessarily view her in the same light as they viewed her sister.

Did you read Roald Dahl's books as a child?

Yes. I was a fan of Matilda when I was little, also James and the Giant Peach and The BFG. He's incredible and it's all so well-written.

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan

Matilda the Musical Credit: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

To go back to your own school days, where did you grow up and how did you come to theatre?

I grew up in Brentwood in Essex and I did amateur theatre when I was growing up and I was in The Sound of Music as a kid, but I never did anything professionally.

I wasn't a particularly good student at school, if I'm honest, but the one thing I didn't try particularly hard at, but still got good grades for, was drama and performance.

So I thought I must be quite good at that and I stuck with it. I did Theatre A-Level and then went to drama school. From the age of 13-14, I knew it was something I was going to do.

READ MORE: Tim Minchin on doing Roald Dahl justice in Matilda the Musical

Do you have any Norwich connections?

This is an honest true story - I played football for Norwich City when I was 13 to 14 years of age.

I always wanted to be a footballer, obviously. I wasn't making it easy for myself, wanting to be either a footballer or an actor, and was scouted when I played for a Sunday League team back home.

But when I was 16, it didn't work out. I didn't make it, but I played for Norwich for a few years for the youth squad.

I used to go to the training ground at Norwich and I spent a lot of time there.

I played some amazing games and had some amazing experiences because you are treated brilliantly at that time because there is the potential that you could be the next big thing for the club.

Who were your contemporaries when you were playing?

The odds of making it as a footballer are extremely slim. I used to play with Jermain Defoe, not at Norwich but when I played in Sunday League football and Leon Knight was another and I played against John Terry once.

After I played at Norwich, I went to play at Millwall and then when I was 16 they just said 'it's quite a bit of a long shot'.

I went to quite a good school so they suggested I go and study because I don't think I was going to get a professional contact, so I turned more to acting.

Matilda The Musical tickets cost £10 to £58.50 and are available in person at the box office, by phone on 01603 630000 or online at