I’ve had a love of reading since I first picked up a book as a young child, and I’m determined to pass that on to my daughter. It’s become a tradition in our house now to read a bedtime story every night, and recently, we’ve been reading Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Again. One of Roald Dahl’s most beloved books, it was a firm favourite of mine as a child, and a generation later, it is still working its magic on my daughter; I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read it to her. Unsurprisingly then, she is very much looking forward to the West End’s new musical adaption which opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 25th June 2013 (previews from 18th May).
I took her to see the musical adaption of another Roald Dahl’s classic, Matilda The Musical, when I reviewed it at the Cambridge Theatre for this site last year. There are twenty years between my daughter and I, but for those few hours, we were both a couple of kids caught up in the fantastical world of imagination and enchanting delights. There are few shows we have both enjoyed so thoroughly and the number of theatrical acclaims Matilda has been awarded reflects this view by a shared audience. Will Charlie and The Chocolate Factory be able to follow in its footsteps though, or will it find itself trying to fill shoes that are just too big?
Matilda has been an overwhelming success, with CATCF expected to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with this emerging giant of the West End. That both are musical adaptions of such a renowned author, inevitably leads them to be compared to one another; despite the fact that each production comes from separate creative teams. CATCF is in very good hands in that respect however, with award-winning stage and screen director Sam Mendes (he recently directed the critically acclaimed new James Bond film Skyfall) at the helm. Scottish playwright David Greig has written the book and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the composing duo behind Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray, have created new songs for the show. It will also feature choreography by Peter Darling (Matilda, Billy Elliot).
Another big factor in the popular appeal of Matilda when it first appeared on the scene was its phenomenal cast, particularly one Mr Bertie Carvel as tyrannical headmistress ‘Miss Trunchbull’. Again though, CATCF is doing pretty well in that department too. The first piece of casting was announced in October 2012, confirming the long-circling rumours of Olivier and Tony Award-winning stage actor Douglas Hodge playing the role of ‘Willy Wonka’. Three months later and anxious theatre fans finally have a little more meaty casting news to sink their teeth into. It was revealed on the weekend that Hodge will be performing alongside Nigel Planer, who joins the cast as ‘Grandpa Joe’ who is little Charlie’s chaperone on his tour of the factory.
Planer has a wealth of experience on the West End stage, having previously appeared in such musicals as Chicago, Evita, Hairspray, We Will Rock You and Wicked (he was in the original London cast of most of these). He is probably best known for his role as ‘Neil’ in 1980’s comedy sitcom The Young Ones, but has a long list of other TV/film credits to his name.
Further casting announced includes the parental companions of the four other golden ticket winners, with Clive Carter as ‘Mr Salt’, Jasna Ivir as ‘Mrs Gloop, Paul J Medford as ‘Mr Beauregarde’, Iris Roberts as ‘Mrs Teavee’. Myra Sands will also join the production as ‘Grandma Georgina’ alongside other cast members: Joe Allen, David Birch, Michelle Bishop, Mireia Mambo Bokele, Matthew Clarke, Alex Clatworthy, Jennifer Davison, Luke Fetherston, Damien Poole and Jack Shalloo.
Roald Dahl’s long-lasting story centres on the poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket, whose luck finally turns around when he finds a golden ticket and wins the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see inside the mysterious Chocolate Factory of genius chocolate-maker Willy Wonka. The mouth-watering adventure that awaits him is beyond his wildest imagination. Before being adapted into a musical, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory was twice made into film versions. The first – and best in my opinion – was released in 1971 with Gene Wilder giving an iconic performance as Willy Wonka. A re-make was released in 2005 and starred Hollywood actor Johnny Depp in the role.
Theatre fans still have somewhat of a wait on their hands; there are still four months until previews begin and the full company has still not been revealed. All the best things in life are worth waiting for however, and I think Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is definitely going to be one of the best things in the West End this year.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)