Wednesday 19 March 2014


Theatre review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Synopsis: When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it's the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he's always dreamed of. But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as down the sugary corridors and amongst the incredible edible delights, the five lucky winners discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.

Roal Dahl's deliciously dark tale of young Charlie Bucket and the mysterious confectioner Willy Wonka comes to life in a brand new West End musical directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes.

Featuring ingenious stagecraft, the wonder of the original story that has captivated the world for almost 50 years is brought to life with music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Grammy winners for Hairspray; Smash) and a book by award-winning playwright and adaptor David Greig (The Bacchae; Tintin In Tibet).


Charlie and his golden ticket

When in 2011 Matilda the Musical made its debut in London's famous West End (read my review here) and was received with glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike, the quest was on for the next Roald Dahl novel to be turned into a spectacular family show. And just two years later the golden ticket arrived in the form of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The story of the poor boy who gets a once in a life time opportunity to walk through the doors of the magical chocolate factory that creates the famous Wonka bars had already gone through several celebrated screen incarnations, so the creators of the stage version had a lot to live up to. Thankfully they have made their own mark on the famous children's story with a sweet, colourful and enchanting adaptation.

The first half of the show is rather gloomy as the audience is introduced to Charlie Bucket (the wonderful Jack Costello on the night we saw it, though four children share the role) and his family. They are so poor that the four grandparents share one bed, they have holes in the roof and Charlie only gets chocolate once a year; on his birthday.

The magnificent set design really manages to depict the depressing living conditions of the Buckets and with a few twists and changes it's also easily manipulated into a completely different scene, as we are one by one also introduced to the other four children who take centre stage within the story.

The colourful Willy Wonka

The most magical moment in the first half is, of course, when the flamboyant Willy Wonka (a fantastic impersonation by Douglas Hodge) makes his long-awaited entrance. He arrives in a pop of colour and his trademark vivid purples and greens hardly leave the stage after that. He also brings some much-needed cheekiness and comic relief to what could've easily been a quite depressing and morbid tale, as well as a touch of the wonder and magic that is hidden behind his factory doors.

In the second half the characters and audience members get the rare chance to explore the fascinating chocolate factory as we visit one nutty invention room after another. There are some brilliant special effects in these scenes, from the small Oompa Loompas and the famous glass elevator to the various transformations of the children who meet unfortunate early departures from the factory tour.

The story stays very true to the book in the stage version, though of course with added musical numbers. Willy Wonka undoubtedly gets the most memorable songs in the show, particular highlights are Pure Imagination and It Must Be Believed To Be Seen, but the whole soundtrack is delightful and the cast brings a lot of joy to it.

We loved the musical version of the classic Roald Dahl tale and highly recommend you check it out - with or without kids in tow. It's a colourful, magical and crazy journey yet also incredibly heartwarming and rewarding. Top tip: Bring some chocolate with you when you see it, as you'll definitely leave the theatre craving some of the delicious melt-in-the-mouth cocoa treat.

The glass elevator; one of the most magical scenes in the show

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plays at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Catherine Street in London. The musical is currently taking bookings until March 2015.

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