What’s it all about?
A small joyful boy living amid Dickensian extremes of poverty who, despite life’s hardships, holds onto his dreams, and a reclusive, effusive chocolate factory owner who launches the most spectacular of competitions.
Who’s in it?
Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings has slipped seamlessly into the Dairy Milk-purple jacket recently vacated by original Wonka Douglas Hodge. The National Theatre regular emerges as an initially sinister Wonka and puts one a little in mind of another great literary kids’ creation, The Cat In The Hat. As the eccentric confectioner he displays more personalities than a Thornton’s mega box has different centred sweeties. There’s even a moment of Alan Bennett in there for hardcore Jennings fans.
Jennings’ acclaimed new colleague Josefina Gabrielle is a delectable delight as the hilarious Mrs Teavee, the picture of a postcard-perfect suburban mum covering up comedy breakdown induced by her video game-obsessed son. The satisfaction that comes from the moment he gets his comeuppance matches any cocoa-riffic high.
As with Clive Carter’s Mr Salt, father to the obnoxious, spoilt and thoroughly scene-stealing Veruca – certainly as played by Scarlet Roche on the night I saw the production; the 12-year-old is a star in the making – the put upon parents are almost more interesting than the sometimes one-dimensional kids.
What should I watch out for?
The handful of moments of beautifully breathtaking stage magic that have the same smile-bringing quality as a rich hot chocolate on a cold winter day. To give them away would be like nibbling each chocolate in someone else’s selection box; they could still enjoy it, but with a hint of annoyance at my interference.
Oh, and the squirrels. Watch out for them, they’re nuts!
In a nutshell?
Like an everlasting gobstopper, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is still a delicious treat one year on.
What’s being said on Twitter?
@MagicJamie I think #CharlieAndTheChocolateFactory @TheatreRoyalDL may have just jumped to my No.1 Has to be seen to be believed!
@LeahNCurtis Charlie blew my mind ever so slightly last night! #charlieandthechocolatefactory
Will I like it?
The question for me, and for many I guess, was will it live up to the book or the Gene Wilder film, such is my nostalgic attachment to them. It is, of course, the wrong question. This is a new entity that Sam Mendes and his team have created; a delicacy both adult and childish. They’ve taken the soft, sweet centre of the Bucket family and Dahl’s almost bitter darkness, and added ingredients only they could have conceived to create one of the West End’s most mouth-watering treats.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is booking until 30 May at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You can book tickets through us here.
Previous review of first cast by Charlotte Marshall:
More than 20 years after his death, Roald Dahl has never been so popular, with the West End’s Matilda The Musical breaking records and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory setting up chocolatey-camp down the road with equally entertaining results.
Sam Mendes’ slick and visually spectacular take on the classic retains all of Dahl’s deliciously dark, wickedly witty elements and adds a colourful sprinkling of West End magic and subtle 21st century updates. While Charlie Bucket and his mostly bedridden family inhabit a dilapidated shack, that seems like it has been lifted straight from Dahl’s iconic illustrator Quentin Blake’s imagination, his golden ticket friends are not quite so Dickensian.
In Mendes and playwright David Greig’s hands, the aggressive Mike Teavee is transformed into a video game addict who exists in a fluorescent strobe-lit world, causing his Stepford-wife mother to turn to shots of ‘mummy water’ and pharmaceuticals. The gluttonous Augustus Gloop is an obese Bavarian beefcake with a penchant for sausages, while Violet Beauregarde is a rap star called the Double Bubble Duchess, whose ability to chew has brought her not only fame but her own perfume range, a rather unattractive sense of entitlement and an entourage with dollar bills in their eyes.
Of course, the queen of entitlement remains the wonderfully spoilt Veruca Salt whose David Dickinson-esque father exhaustingly pampers as she pirouettes and pouts, before disappearing swiftly when she finds herself in her very own surreal version of The Nutcracker, with man-sized squirrels in place of the traditional mouse army. In contrast, Charlie is a delight, although while we may fall in love with his unassuming, polite, gracious ways, he’s equally as likeable for the mischievous twinkle in his eye and his love of daydreaming about liquorice shoestrings and marzipan molars.
From edible gardens to chocolate waterfalls, human mirrorballs, a room full of intuitive squirrels and a spinning wheel of ingredients producing wacky and wonderful confectionery from your wildest dreams, Mendes’ show is packed with inventive surprises and magical wonders delivered on Mark Thompson’s techicoloured set. At the heart of this magic is, of course, Willy Wonka, played with a devilish edge by the accomplished Douglas Hodge, who reinvents the iconic role for himself, playing the slightly psychotic character as a born entertainer with a sarcastic wit and sentimental heart.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s sassy lyrics match Greig’s witty script and, while the one song you inevitably come away singing is the classic Pure Imagination, their endlessly inventive score keeps every scene fresh, ranging from electro pop for Mike’s technology-induced demise to 70s pop for Violet’s waist-popping explosion and sweet musical theatre classics for Bucket’s poverty stricken family who find fun and love in every situation.
But what of those famous Oompa-Loompas? To say too much would give away some of the show’s most hilarious moments, but it’s fair to divulge that Mendes has shied away from anything high-tech, instead employing old-fashioned manpower, black leotards and a series of clever tactics, from platformed roller-skates to cardboard boxes, to produce the famously short statured helpers who in this production chuckle away with joy and fill the looming factory with intriguing shadows.
With standout performances from the hugely talented child cast, scrumptious design, a book that fully embraces Dahl’s wicked sense of humour and a heartwarming conclusion that will send you into the night on a high from the vivid world you have just experienced, Mendes’ production will take you on an irresistible adventure. As Charlie says, you may have had dreams that are incredible, but this one is edible.