Theatre Review – “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London)

 

This musical, which opened back in June this year and directed by Sam Mendes (director of films including “Skyfall”, “American Beauty” and “Road To Perdition” and stage productions including “Oliver!” and “Richard III”), brings to life the story of Charlie Bucket and his quest to be the winner of one of five lucky Golden Tickets distributed by chocolate maker Willy Wonka which will entitle him to a trip around the reclusive Wonka’s factory and a lifetime supply of candy.

I have been in love with the story of “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” since I was an eight year old and I was desperate to see this musical when I first heard about it earlier this year.  Fortunately, with Christmas just around the corner, I had an early visit from Santa who gave me my own Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Using Dahl’s original story as the template for this musical, rather than the two feature films, this interpretation is primarily seen from Charlie’s point of view from his beginnings in the run down shack which he shares with his parents and grandparents, through the competition to find the five Golden Tickets and, eventually, through to his guided tour around Wonka’s world.

Rather than the dark interpretation that Tim Burton brought to the screen, Mendes and his team manage to marry up Dahl’s morality story with a contemporary, more biting wit.  For instance, Verucca Salt is a spoilt brat debutante “It” girl who wants her Daddy to buy everything in sight including North Korea, whilst Violet Beauregarde owes much to the cult of celebrity with television programmes and business deals geared around the fact that she simply chews gum and Mike Teavee is a hyperactive child of homicidal proportions who loves nothing more than to play “shoot ’em ups”.

The set design is fantastic and imaginative with the scenes in the first half primarily geared around the Bucket house, including a giant television on which the Golden Ticket winners stories are “transmitted” and a dance scene involving the Bucket grandparents’ bed, whilst the second half focusing on the chocolate factory with fantastical interpretations of “The Chocolate Room”, “The Inventing Room”, “The Nut Sorting Room”, “The Television Room” and a room that I don’t want to spoil as the ending hinges around it.

The music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman perfectly compliments the storyline with the themes for Charlie expressing the fact that he is a dreamer, the themes for Willy are whimsical and playful expressing his chaotic state of mind, whilst the other children’s themes express their grasping, vicious, brattiness to a greater extent than the two feature films.

Of course, everyone will want to know about the Oompa Loompas.  They are fantastically realised through a combination of puppetry and costume design to effectively realise the Oompa Loompas diminuitive height whilst having them tap dance, roller skate and boogie away 70’s style.

The child cast were all fantastic in their roles, effectively portraying their respective characters and complimenting their adult co-stars, most prominently Douglas Hodge who has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp in the role of Wonka.  Mr Hodge imbues the character with a scatter-brained quality which also has the space to encapsulate Willy’s magical imagination and his more manipulative tendencies.

All in all, “Charlie” is a fantastic AND fantastical experience which will satisfy both fans of the book and the films from the show’s beginnings where Charlie is scavenging for chocolate wrappers and thrown away items through to his journey in the Glass Elevator (which has to be seen on stage to be believed alongside the show’s interpretation of “Pure Imagination” which featured in “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory”).

If I had one point of issue, it would be with the set design which relies on some of the action taking place at the front of the stage.  As somebody who was sat in the Balcony, this meant that there was a restricted view of this area of the stage and involved me bobbing and weaving my head more than a prize fighter.  However, this didn’t spoil my evening’s entertainment and I would recommend this play to the young, the young at heart and any chocoholics out there.

 

 

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