Anarchy in the UK: Aussie comic Tim Minchin is fomenting childish revolt after getting his hands on Roald Dahl

His musical of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' for the RSC opens one night, his UK arena comedy stand-up tour the next. Is it any wonder Tim Minchin is going ape?

Look at my eyes." Tim Minchin has not been sleeping well – and with good reason. The Aussie musical comic has been a busy boy recently, preparing for the consecutive opening nights of both his new musical for the Royal Shakespeare Company, based on Roald Dahl's Matilda, and a UK arena stand-up tour in cahoots with a 55-piece orchestra. "I've been insanely stressed," he says. "I have to go to bed shattered or my heart just goes whoom."

Going to bed shattered presumably isn't hard to achieve – today, or at any time over the past five years. In 2005, Minchin brought his piano-and-jokes shtick to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time, and secured the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer. His subsequent rise has been both spectacular and stealthy. Without the usual TV overexposure, and despite being billed the "Richard Dawkins of comedy" for his rationalist subject matter, the 35-year-old has established himself as our favourite adopted rock-star comic.

I can't better Minchin's own explanation of his success, which – in its matter-of-factness about his own powers – is typical of the man. "If you're a jazz or classical connoisseur, you can go any night of the week and see a musician 10 times better than me, and have your mind blown. But most people never see someone really playing an instrument; really going at it hard and enjoying their craft." Make that crafts, plural. Minchin's wordplay is as dexterous as his ivory-whacking fingers.

His success is easily explicable, then – but it was also wholly accidental. Throughout his twenties in Perth, Australia, Minchin was a jobbing actor and writer, supplying tunes for local theatres and playing keyboards in a covers band. The comedy career snuck up on him, when audiences at the 2003 Melbourne Festival found his debut cabaret show funnier than he expected. Yet the transformation was, and remains, tentative. Minchin's shows feature non-comic songs alongside the funnies. His most famous number, a nine-minute Beat poem called "Storm", in which Minchin tears into a credulous New Ager at a dinner party, is as serious as it is funny. He includes anti-superstition material in each of his shows "not because I'm trying to educate people, but because most of what I think about is how beautiful nature is, and how wacky it is that people believe shit that doesn't seem to be the case".

Then there's Matilda, on which Minchin has been working for a year. First contact with the RSC, which invited him to add music and lyrics to playwright Dennis Kelly's book, was a transformative moment for him. Not least because of the serendipity: 10 years previously, he had applied to the Dahl estate for stage rights to that very novel. "Like nearly everyone," he says, "Dahl is embedded in my sense of child-ness. As soon as I encountered Matilda, I was struck by [the feeling of] how is that not a musical yet?"

The Minchin-Matilda connection is simple to discern. She is the abused child genius who wreaks revenge on the adult world. He, kohl-eyed and shock-haired, plays the delinquent child in his stand-up – before sitting at the piano and proving himself a prodigy. The quality in his new musical that most excites Minchin is its "promotion of anarchy. The thesis Dahl visits again and again is that children, if they use their childishness, their mischief and ingenuity, if they don't sit in front of tellies but read books and be adventurous, can overwhelm their grown-up oppressors."

His excitement about the project extends beyond his belief that he's made a great show. It relates to the fact that he's found himself again. "Writing music-theatre is what I started doing when I was 17," he says. "I was never a good pop musician, as I write theatrically: dense lyrics that tell stories and music that dabbles in all sorts of styles. I've re-found my thing, but now with a load of confidence as I have a successful career, so I don't have to hate myself every morning. And it's the RSC who asked me to do it, so I can't be a total chump."

Does that mean comedy was an aberration? Not exactly. Minchin has a vexed relationship with stand-up. "There's something dirty and sleeping-with-a-hooker about comedy," he says. "It's an artistic one-night stand. Once you've heard it, it's spoilt. Once you've had it, it's dirty." By contrast, he describes in awestruck tones how, halfway through creating Matilda, Dennis Kelly axed a character for whom Minchin had written his two best songs. Minchin was distraught – "it took me three months to get over it" – but now hymns the episode as an example of the cut-and-thrust rigour of artistic collaboration that solo stand-up denies him.

He is also wary of the narcissism of stand-up – because "I've got that in me," he admits. As if we needed telling. One of his songs, which names and crucifies a reviewer who one-starred Minchin's Edinburgh debut, is the last word in thin-skinned aversion to criticism. Minchin's capacity for introspection and obsessiveness is likewise easy to detect. He is breezy and friendly in interview, but now and then worries at a question like a dog with a bone. Repeatedly, he tells me what will and won't read well in this article. After the tape has been switched off, he regales me and his PR with lyrics from his new songs.

But he is still committed to comedy – albeit as one activity among many, which will one day include acting, he hopes, "and writing straight plays, if I can. And recording albums of non-funny songs." His comedy can be collaborative, too, as Minchin hopes to prove with his orchestra tour. The plan was to bring that show from Australia, where it originated, to the UK in lieu of the new stand-up set that Matilda has prevented him writing. But Minchin ended up writing a "two-thirds' new" show anyway. "I didn't want just to take a show from a smaller venue and put it in a big venue. I wanted a show that couldn't be anywhere but an arena." And besides, "I saw Muse at Wembley Stadium and I thought, I have to make it even more stupid than that."

Several recent comedy events – Monty Python's reunion at the Albert Hall, Barry Humphries' Last Night of the Poms – have twinned orchestras and comedy to lumbering effect. Is Minchin worried his new backing band will clip his wings? "You can't just staple them on," he admits, "because all they'll do is make your songs sound more like songs and less like comedy. An orchestra is funniest when it's doing massive classical turns in the service of stupid ideas." He tells me with joy that the whole orchestra will sing "motherfucker" in his song about the Pope. Elsewhere, the show sends up what Minchin calls the "paradox" of arena comedy: "This idea that you're so big that you don't have to give people a good experience any more. My first song is about that, which obliges me to ensure that I'm the exception to the rule."

Hence the sleepless nights. "It's ridiculous that I have a musical at the RSC and an arena tour opening on consecutive nights," he says. He takes refuge, of course, in rationalism. "I keep telling myself that my stress isn't about logistics, it's just me coming to terms with the idea. And that shouldn't stress you, because it's just conceptual. If you can't get your head around it, don't. Just make the songs as good as you can, and when you walk out on stage, you either cope or you don't. And what I do know is, I'll cope," he says, relieved at the thought. "I'll probably be fine."

'Matilda' is previewing now at the RSC's Courtyard Theatre, Stratford (tel: 0844 800 1110). Tim Minchin and his Orchestra play Brighton tomorrow (tel: 0844 847 1515). For full details of the tour, visit

Musical leanings: Tim's top five shows

Jesus Christ Superstar

"I've loved this since I was a kid. In the original production, they had 30 members of the LSO in the pit, with the drummer, guitarist and bassist from Deep Purple, and a couple of guys from Motörhead. And on stage, Ian Gillan from Deep Purple playing Jesus. That's brilliant. And it's a genuinely atheist musical! It's so cool."

Starlight Express

"It changed my life. I saw it in London when I was 10, and there was a ramp that went behind me, it was loud and I knew all the songs. That power to blow your mind is what you want to remember."


"Oliver is brilliant. As a kid I had a pianola that was my grandmother's and we used to sit around and sing all these songs. Most of the musicals I know, I know because we had a pianola roll of it."

Gilbert and Sullivan

"There was a Gilbert and Sullivan society in Perth, which I thought was the peak of theatrical production. Somewhere I got the joy of playing with words and making them rhyme, and I didn't listen to Tom Lehrer."

A Little Night Music

"Sondheim is incredible. Someone lesser writing a musical might write 'What fools are we'. But he writes 'Send in the clowns'. That's worth its weight in gold."

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit