Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical – Review

Adam Wollerton

A Sweet Treat To Say The Least! – ****

After the recent Channel 4 Musical Documentary Sound of Musicals, I wanted to see what the West End’s Sweetest show had to offer. Will this show prove to be an everlasting gobstopper or will it burst as quick as Violet Beauregarde?

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane seemed to quickly fill close to capacity as the start of the show neared and the initial view of a single cocoa bean hovering in the clutch of the proscenium arch was all we had to go on. Anticipation to see what renown film director Sam Mendes would bring to the stage was overwhelming.

The show started with an unusual cartoon animation in fact, something I have only seen done in Avenue Q before, but it was quite funny nonetheless, and certainly captured Roald Dahl’s comedic story telling nature. It was a clever start to bring a modern and youthful edge to the production.

One thing, among many, that the show has to be commended for is its set. The way it changes throughout the show is incredible, revealing complex rooms seconds after another has disappeared. Every time it changes you can’t help but share a moment of awe as an audience member.

Casting wise, Charlie Bucket was everything he should be – optimistic, humble, and as skinny as a rake! The entire set of grandparents kept the audience giggling, but Nigel Planer as the never-too-old Grandpa Joe carried the story brilliantly alongside Charlie.

The first act was a little slow in comparison to the latter, but set up the story nicely. The storyline certainly is a bit jagged throughout act one jumping from golden ticket winner to the next with not much change to Charlie’s house or situation to match the supposed passing of time.

charlie and the chocolate factory mendes

However, after the introduction of the quick-witted and quirky Mr Willy Wonka, the show certainly gathers a wonkalicious speed as we take a tour through the Chocolate Factory.

Willy Wonka, played by Douglas Hodge, is a great mix of any previous envisioning of Willy Wonka by any other Director of film or theatre. He blends the soft hearted nature of the ageing human searching for the perfect heir to pass his life’s work on to perfectly with the playful and unpredictable childlike nature that Wonka is meant to embody.

The music in the show is different to many musicals. The musical numbers tended to be very short and experimental, such as Mike Teavee’s introductory song ‘It’s Teavee Time’ (the set use and special effects here are something to be admired as well). However some songs seem to struggle to convey their story, tunes such as ‘If Your Mother Were Here’ where the idea was meant to be that they had to work to support the family so much that they are rarely around, but in fact it put a confusing message across almost suggesting she had died instead. Personally, it felt too much like the creative team decided they needed a sentimental song and this was the result. At the other end of the factory, the Oompa Loompa’s had some great songs with incredible choreography, use of set and props, and addictively commercial melodies.

charlie and the chocolate factory mendes

The part of the show that was highly anticipated was the revelation of the great glass elevator. After many issues when the show first started, this moment came with a mix of dread and hope. Willy Wonka has wittily adopted the line of ‘I hope this works, I only invented it this morning!’ after the elevator proved its unpredictable nature throughout the course of the current running of the show. It did prove to be a little underwhelming but the sentiment of the moment is captured nicely in Douglas Hodge’s rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’. An even darker auditorium would lend itself to the magical moment and illusion of the flying elevator.

The combination of the amazing set, the immeasurable amount of talent on offer on stage, and the ability to recapture youth presented in this show makes it a spectacle and a must see for any theatre goer! Sam Mendes presents a beautifully modern twist on a traditional tale which makes this show a sweet treat to say the least!

4 VADA Stars

About Adam Wollerton

Adam is a Writer and Director of Off-West End and West End Theatre Productions. He is also the Co-Founder of Curious Tales Theatre Company and is the author of LoveStuck: A New Musical.