It would be easy to look at Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and see it as a show just for children, but look again and you’ll realise that it’s so much more than that. Most of today’s adults grew up reading Roald Dahl’s books and the wonderful thing about his stories is that they never lose their magic, so as with Matilda The Musical, seeing one of his fantastical worlds brought to life on stage is as much a joy for grown-ups as it is for kids.
If you go to see Charlie and The Chocolate Factory expecting to see a carbon copy of Dahl’s book, or either the Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp film versions, you’ll be disappointed. The musical has taken all the best parts from the story while still staying true to all the important aspects, and consequentially establishes itself as an alternative interpretation which is strong enough to stand proud with its preceding counterparts.
The first half is largely dedicated to building a picture of little Charlie Bucket and the hard life of poverty he and his extended family have been burdened with, but while sweet, hopeful Charlie is the focal character of this story, it progressed at a pace which was perhaps a little too slow for an audience who were eagerly awaiting to meet Willy Wonka and see the world of wonder that lay within the walls of his chocolate factory. The scenes of Charlie’s impoverished existence serve to touch the heart, but the entertaining introductions to the other four ticket winners are welcome contrasts which help the show to avoid overdosing on the misery. The ever-hungry Augustus Gloop and excessively-spoiled Veruca Salt both remain largely unchanged, while Mike Teevee is now a hyper-active computer game enthusiast with alarming violent tendencies who terrorises his mother, and Violet Beauregarde is a diva with attitude who struts around with her own entourage. Humble Charlie Bucket sticks out from this crowd of awful children like a sore thumb.
It’s in the second half of the show that the action kicks in and the story really moves up a gear. Fast-paced and filled with energy, laughs and an abundance of fun, much of the credit must go to Douglas Hodge as the mysterious chocolatier. He paints Wonka as the Van Gogh of the chocolate industry, resembling a mad genius driven by his passion and creativity. It’s reminiscent of the title character from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, but while The Phantom is drawn into darkness and murder, Wonka’s imagination gives rise to a world of beauty, joy and dreams made real. Quirky, strange, weird, insane, eccentric, odd, bizarre, psychotic…whatever adjective you use to describe Hodge in his portrayal of the iconic role, he gives a mesmerising performance that is in danger of stealing the limelight from the child cast. In his top hat and tails, he absolutely looks the part of the ringmaster in charge of the magnificently-crafted circus that is his factory.
The Sam Mendes-directed production has an overall sense of Dahl about it and every part of the chocolate factory is imbued with and magical wonderment. The sets are impressive and the effects achieved with the use of illusion and puppetry that, while handled with simplicity and efficiency, are resultantly stunning. One of the highlights are of course the Oompa-Loompas, brought to life with some clever staging and Peter Darling’s ingenious choreography. Equally entertaining as disco dancers, ballet twirlers or ravers, every appearance was met with childish delight.
The all-new score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is a comfortable accompaniment to the musical, and classic song ‘Pure Imagination’, from the original 1971 film, is perfectly placed nearer the end of the show when Hodge sings a heart-warming rendition while flying through the sky with Charlie in his glass elevator.
Overall, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a treat of a show which will appeal to audiences of all ages. You don’t need to find a golden ticket to see the chocolaty delight inside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – you can buy yourself entry with a standard theatre one. It’s been held in comparison to Matilda The Musical a lot as both are Dahl-adaptions, but while the former is generally accepted to have a slight edge on the latter, it is a fantastically entertaining production in its own right which delivers a magical experience that should come highly recommended to any Roald Dahl and/or musical theatre fan.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)