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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at New Wimbledon Theatre

Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hits 60 next year and has been made into a couple of movies and had a West end run at the Drury Lane Theatre. It then went to Broadway where it was reworked a bit and closed after over 300 performances. The good news is that the show is back in the UK with a UK that takes the best from both the West End and Broadway versions. I caught up with the show during its visit to the New Wimbledon Theatre.

CATCF Gareth Snook 'Willy Wonka' and Noah Walton 'Charlie Bucket'. Photo Johan Persson.
CATCF Gareth Snook ‘Willy Wonka’ and Noah Walton ‘Charlie Bucket’. Photo Johan Persson.

Young Charlie Bucket (Amelia Minto/Haydn Court/George Hamblin/Jessie-Lou Harvie) doesn’t have much in their life. The Bucket family is poor with a capital ‘P’ and while they see other children popping into the sweet shop for a bar of Wonka’s chocolate, the highlight of Charlie’s day is a trip to the dump to find things that can be taken home to the family. Despite being poor and at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale, Charlie loves their family – mother (Leonie Spilsbury) – and the four grandparents, Grandpa Joe (Michael D’Cruze), Grandma Josephine (Kate Milner Evans), Grandpa George (Christopher Howell) and Grandma Georgina (Emily Winter) who spend all day huddled up together in a double bed. They have nothing and live on a diet of cabbage soup, but the family is happy. Grandpa Jo keeps everyone entertained with (often apocryphal) stories of their life. Charlie’s favourite story is about the elusive Willy Wonka (Gareth Snook) who owns a mysterious factory in the middle of the town. Nobody is ever seen going into the factory but out of it come the most amazing sweets and chocolate bars and every year, on their Birthday Charlie receives a bar of Wonka chocolate. This year though, the bar may be even more important as Wonka has announced that he has hidden five golden tickets in five separate bars of chocolate and the lucky children that find them will be invited into the factory. This sparks off a worldwide hunt and slowly the golden tickets are found. As Augustus Gloop (Robin Simoes Da Silva), Veruca Salt (Kazmin Borrer), Violet Beauregarde (Marisha Morgan) and Mike Teavee (Teddy Hide) celebrate their win, Charlie can’t help but hope that the final ticket will be hiding in their birthday bar.

If, like me, you read the book as a kid, then you will like this version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. David Greig has kept very close to the original story and the words are enhanced by the songs (music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) produce a lovely show. Personally, I think the second act is much better than the first, which has a lot to do to establish all the characters and doesn’t get really exciting until Wonka appears right at the end – although I did love the ‘News bulletins’. I also have to admit that I’m not that fond of Charlie Bucket as a character. Just like Tiny Tim in ‘A Christmas Carol’ Charlie is too sweet and nice and becomes, for me, a little irritating. However, I love the fact that this production has male and female actors playing Charlie and Amelia – who played the role the night I saw the show – was really wonderful in her portrayal. Something taken from the Broadway show is to use adults to play the other children. Now this can be a problem – I’m thinking of Grease here – but the casting here is perfect and the adults look young enough to be their characters and have all the mannerisms that we know and love/hate from the original story.

Simon Higlett’s very practical set is great in the first act, bringing the Bucket house to life beautifully, but it is in the second act where the overall design really takes off with the practical elements being augmented by some truly amazing video effects designed by Simon Wainwright. My favourite scene has to be in the Nut testing room which is spectacular. Quick mention of the Oompa-Loompas here. Their first appearance was a bit of a shock as there were no orange-haired little people, instead, we had what I can only describe as silver steampunk robotic-looking individuals. A bit of a surprise but it really worked.

Wonka himself is a bit of a difficult character to pin down. On the one hand, he is a happy, welcoming father-type figure, but on the other, he is actually quite nasty and seems to really revel in what happens to the children. I also have concerns about his possible exploitation of the Oompa-Loompas who I bet do not have union recognition in their contracts. Gareth Snook treads the fine line between these two facets of Wonka beautifully and adds a touch of “what will he do next” madness in his eyes as well to give the audience a fantastic performance of the chocolatier.

All told, my friend Lynne and I really enjoyed our visit to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Whilst, as I have said, the first act has issues for me, the second really lifts the show up and takes you in the great glass elevator on a ride you’ll remember for a long, long time.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Based on the iconic story, this spectacular stage show follows the hit West End and Broadway productions to combine the memorable songs from the original 1970’s motion picture (‘The Candy Man’ and ‘Pure Imagination’) with all new numbers from the multi-award-winning songwriters of Hairspray.

When Charlie Bucket finds one of the five golden tickets to the Wonka Chocolate Factory, he and the other winners can’t wait to feast on the sweets of their dreams. But beyond the gates, they discover more than just remarkable edible delights. As they embark on an extraordinary journey through Willy Wonka’s marvellous mind, they soon learn that nobody leaves the same way that they arrived…

The weird and wonderful world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – The Musical will dazzle your senses in its first ever UK & Ireland Tour.

Every ticket is GOLDEN, book yours today!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Wednesday 21st June, 2023 to Saturday 1st July, 2023.

View all shows booking now at New Wimbledon Theatre.

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory Tickets
  2. Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical Theatre Royal Drury Lane
  3. Review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory October 2013
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Waterstone Biscuit
  5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to embark on UK and Ireland Tour

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