Apologies to our cousins across the pond, but London’s West End is rightly acknowledged as one of the real centres of excellence when it comes to the theatre. One of the many shows that keep this reputation is the award winning “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
The show is based on the Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel of the same name, and has been a part of almost everyone’s childhood ever since it was first published. The story revolves around young Charlie Bucket (Noah Crump, Johnny Evans-Hutchison, Zachary Loonie or Jake Poolman) a kind-hearted, poor boy who lives in a shack under the railway with his mother (Lara Denning), father (Derek Hagen), and four bedridden grandparents – Grandpa Jo (Barry James), Grandma Josephine (Roni Page), Grandpa George (Kraig Thomber) and Grandma Georgina (Myra Sands). Charlie doesn’t have high expectations of life but keeps cheerful and has only one real ambition, to get his annual bar of chocolate for his birthday. This year, it’s even more important than normal as the mysterious and reclusive chocolate maker Willy Wonka (Jonathan Slinger) is running an amazing competition.
Inside five of his chocolate bars there is a golden ticket giving the winner not only a chance to enter Wonka’s factory but also a lifetime’s supply of sweets. Whilst being realistic about his chances of winning a golden ticket, Charlie can’t help but get drawn up into the excitement of the competition but as the days go on the television starts reporting winners around the world. First the rotund Augustus Gloop (Logan Cripps, Dane Juler or Benjamin Lewis) and his mother (Jasna Ivir) find one, swiftly followed by the awful Veruca Salt (Ellie Benge, Hannah Howland or Ella Tweed) whose overindulgent father (Ross Dawes) has pulled out all the stops to get his daughter what she wants. Two tickets down and Charlie’s hopes are fast fading, then bubble chewing TV star Violet Beauregarde (Armani Hall, Psalms-Nissi Myers-Reid or Miriam Nyarko) and her father (Paul J Medford) find number three with computer obsessed Mike Teavee (Archie Durrant, Freddie Haggerty or Harry Vallance) using possibly dodgy methods to get hold of the fourth despite the protestations of innocence by his mother (Josefina Gabrielle). Only one ticket left. Is Charlie going to find it? Will he get his chance to go into the Wonka factory and learn the secrets within? Will his vocabulary have to change to include the words Oompa-Loompa? OK, we all know he will, or this would be a pretty good one act play, but nothing can prepare Charlie or the other ticket winners for the wonders they see when they finally go through the huge iron gates and the lessons they learn along the way to the truly awesome grandest prize of all.
If someone was to put together a checklist of how to put together a musical, then “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” would tick every box. During the interval and after the show my companion and I realised that there was not a single thing to criticise throughout this truly fantastic piece. Actually, I’m going to be honest. I do have one criticism of the show. Although the smile on my face started as the curtain lifted and stayed fixed right to the end, I did leave the theatre depressed that I was nowhere near as talented as the young actors playing the children and with a fantastic theatrical career ahead of them.
However, my jealousy at my lack of talent aside, I honestly believe that Roald Dahl would have thoroughly approved of this wonderful interpretation of his work.The book, music and lyrics, by David Greig and Marc Shaiman, have brought the original book to life beautifully –
I’ve been listening to the soundtrack album as I have been writing this review. Mark Thompson’s set is the most impressive I have ever seen on a stage, and there was a tear in many an eye when the Great Glass Elevator arrived for the iconic song ‘Pure Imagination’. Every scene was amazing but one of own favourites was the nut sorting room, laid out in meticulous detail, which left me really wanting a human sized squirrel as a pet at home.
This is a show that could so easily lose its way through the direction, but Sam Mendes resisted every temptation to make the children too over the top. Charlie is never annoyingly good in the way that Tiny Tim in ‘A Christmas Carol’ is, but is just a lovely young lad who really is completely selfless in his approach to life. Likewise the other children are detestable characters without descending into pantomime performances. All of their negative characteristics are there for all – but their adoring parents- to see and when they get their comeuppance everyone is secretly very happy. As for Jonathan Slinger’s Wonka, well they say there is a fine line between genius and madness and Jonathan acts, walks, sings and dances it perfectly. He manages to combine the facets of a benign eccentric with an, at times, frightening maniac fantastically and songs like ‘Strike That, Reverse It’ provide a lovely insight into the mind of this mysterious man. I have said before that the mark of a great children’s show is the effect it has on young audience and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” had them hooked from the start. I loved the spontaneous reactions – when Charlie pulls out the ticket there was a huge round of applause which really demonstrates how much the audience – child and adult alike – are invested in the show they are seeing. Pure magic.
London is a city where superb theatre is pretty much the norm and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the ultimate family musical, appealing and engaging for children of all ages – and if you don’t leave with a smile on your face then I will never eat another chocolate bar as long as I live (honest!).
Review by Terry Eastham
Roald Dahl’s captivating dark story of young Charlie Bucket and the mysterious confectioner Willy Wonka is brought to life in a new West End musical directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes.
When Charlie gets to win a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always dreamed of.
But on the far side of the gates incredible amazement awaits him, as down the sugary corridors and among the incredible edible delights, the five lucky winners find out not everything is as sweet as it first appears to be.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Address: Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Age Restrictions: Recommended for ages 7+ (Under 5′s will not be admitted)
Opened 25th June 2013
Thursday 14th May 2015