|Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Picture: Helen Maybanks|
I love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I love Roald Dahl’s book, I love the 1971 film adaptation (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) with Gene Wilder, and I even sort of love the more recent film starring Johnny Depp.
So it was with great anticipation I went along to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The musical, building on the critical and commercial success of Tim Minchin’s musical version of Matilda, has been directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, and tells the story of Charlie Bucket, who wins one of five golden tickets to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
And let me tell you, this version’s not half bad.
You can tell a film director has put this together, because visually it’s stunning. The sets are incredible, from the opening scene in a dank, polluted town, through Charlie’s poky but loved home, via all the houses belonging to the other kids lucky enough to have won golden tickets, and right through to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The production uses a mix of physical sets and projections to create the world within.
Also stunning is the opening – the story of how the cacao bean becomes chocolate. It’s voiced by Willy Wonka (Douglas Hodge) and shown on a projection, with the story illustrated by Quentin Blake, who collaborated with Dahl to illustrate his many books. This beginning was for lovers of Dahl, and it made me feel at home.
The aforementioned Hodge is a delight as Willy Wonka, straddling the line between crazy, sincere and damaged with perfect precision. And Hodge’s voice is wonderful to listen to, especially when he sings one of the show’s final songs, Pure Imagination, which is from the Wilder film.
Hodge is easily the strongest of the actors on stage. While the other adults (Charlie’s parents and grandparents, and the parents of the other kids touring the factory) round out the show, they’re not really compelling enough or on stage long enough to become so. That’s even the case with Charlie’s grandfather, Grandpa Joe (Nigel Planer) who accompanies him to the factory.
|Tom Klenerman as Charlie Bucket. Picture: Helen Maybanks|
Tom Klenerman as Charlie was sweet to watch, and easy to like. The other child actors will surely grow into their performances as the show continues (I was watching the second performance) but the cast I saw do have some things to work on – mainly their diction. I don’t think I understood a single word that came out of Mike Teevee’s (Adam Mitchell) mouth, and although this appeared to be a joke of the production, it didn’t work for me. On the other hand, I thought Veruca Salt (played by Ellie Simons) was just the right kind of annoying, and Harrison Slater as Augustus Gloop was hilarious and sweet despite his greed.
The Oompa Loompas are interestingly done – played by adults using a combination of puppets and clever costumes, and while they’re amusing, they’re not that impressive.
Musically, the show is adequate. The only number I’ve remembered is Violet Beauregarde’s theme tune – Double Bubble Duchess. Everything else was pretty forgettable, including the numbers by the Oompa Loompas, which were great while they lasted but which I can’t for the life of me remember now.
Despite its faults, I left Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feeling pretty upbeat and with a huge smile on my face. It may not be perfect, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a feel-good show, powerful enough to beat any high a bar of chocolate may give you.