I left The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Wednesday night with a big smile on my face. Not usually enamoured with musicals, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is an exception, partly because of my daughter’s links to the production and partly because Willy Wonka is portrayed by the wonderful Douglas Hodge.
Roald Dahl was a great favourite of all three of my children and I think this adaptation of one of his most popular stories would in turn be a favourite of his. I saw a programme on television the other night devoted to the show and having seen the technical problems involved in such a massive production, the fact that everything now works to perfection is a great testament to everyone concerned. Not only is it a great feat of theatrical engineering, but also a great artistic feat. Sam Mendes has gone from directing the biggest film of his career (Skyfall) to the biggest theatre production and all credit to him and the cast. It may not be subtle, but the excellent Oliver Finnegan playing Charlie Bucket on the night I went, ensures that there is the right amount of pathos, whilst Mr. Hodge gives his Willy Wonka the correct mix of cruelty and humour. Not too scarey for the kids, but not too nice either.
The music and lyrics by Marc Chalman and Scott Wittman handle the various songs with panache, ensuring that there isn’t too much American syrup mixed with Dahl’s anarchic take on childhood. Although I now can’t remember any of the songs, apart from Pure Imagination, which featured in the film version starring Gene Wilder and some of the words are lost in the very, very fast paced delivery, it really doesn’t matter. This musical is all about fun and spectacle with some old style morality added to the mix.
I’ve already mentioned the adorable Oliver as Charlie, but the other four children who win the gold tickets to visit the chocolate factory are also pretty good. They range from Augustus Gloop, (Alexzander Griffiths) an obvious lover of chocolate who, complete with lederhosen, yodeling and burping is the first to meet his maker via a chocolate pipeline, to a tutu wearing spoilt brat of a girl called Veruca Salt (Tea Noakes). She ends up being squidged down a chute by a group of very large dancing squirrels. Violet Beauregarde (Jade Johnson) plays the gum chewing hip-hop star, who blows up into a huge blueberry, whilst the final winner is Mike Teavee (Jay Heyman), a manic, scowling lover of tv computer games who, after appearing inside a television, “is never the same again”.
The choreography by Peter Darling is of the highest quality with the Oompa-Loompas needing special mention and Mark Thompson’s costumes and sets brilliantly highlight the extremes between Bucket’s more than run down shack and the psychedelically coloured chocolate factory.
This spectacle, complete with working glass elevator, is an enjoyable feast and I only wish I’d had a child to take with me. Let’s hope it enjoys a long run in the West End, so that my Australian grand-daughter gets the chance to see it.