Charlie And The Chocolate Factory will soon be on to its third Willy Wonka. Actors playing the mischievous maestro of munchables lack the longevity of an everlasting gobstopper but last longer than a Wonka’s Whipplescrumptious Fudgemallow Delight, it would seem.
After a year playing the ambiguously moralled confectionary creator, multi Olivier Award winner Jennings will pass the now iconic top hat on to incoming Wonka, Jonathan Slinger.
But before he leaves the Oompa Loompas to run riot under their new master, we caught up with Alex Jennings to discover more about the musical, his inspirations and his ambitions:
Describe your character in six words.
Overgrown naughty child with sweet tooth.
What drew you to this production?
The opportunity to play this brilliant and iconic role in this bright and blasting production. To try and make my own Willy Wonka, and to work at the Drury Lane theatre again; I was here once before as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (in 2002/3), which was a very happy time.
How much fun was it to create your version of a character as dark and eccentric as Willy Wonka?
Working on Wonka was a joy, and I felt able and encouraged to create my own version of this wild and crazy guy. I love playing the extremes of his dark and zany sides.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is such a well-loved story. What does the stage adaptation bring to it?
Life and music and real Oompa Loompas.
How is working with a rotating cast of children?
Just brilliant. All the kids are completely different and original. They help me, as Willy, to do fresh and hopefully interesting things. They are very inspiring!
If you could invent the ideal sweet, what would it be?
A fresh cream and peanut butter cup with dark, dark chocolate.
What first sparked your interest in performing?
A love of theatre and movies I guess. I had the opportunity to be in plays at school and then in youth theatres, both local and national. I had a very extraordinary teacher at school called David Broughton, and he ran the school’s drama group. He was funny and eccentric and completely inspirational.
Who or what else has inspired you?
Classic old movies and movie stars. Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Alec Guinness, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis; they are my favourites. On stage such brilliant actors as Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, John Wood, Edward Petherbridge, Paul Scofield, and the generation before them, Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier. All of whom I saw.
What is the finest performance you have seen?
I’ll pick two. Sir Ralph Richardson as Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman and Angela Lansbury as Rose in Gypsy (I fully expect Imelda Staunton, when I see her in Gypsy, to be up there with them!) – both of these a long time ago, in the early 1970s for heaven’s sakes!
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
I don’t think I have really. There have been a few holidays when I’ve had to come home early.
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
No, I just get into costume and make-up (with the help of Claire, Natalie and Emma – my dresser and make-up artists who are completely indispensable), and I listen to The Archers.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
Fred Astaire and Prince.
What one book, film and album would you recommend to our readers?
Book: The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Just dip in and learn. All life is there in 60 very heavy volumes!
Film: Kes by Ken Loach, it’s funny and heart breaking and original, and I was blown away by it when it first came out in 1970. The book by Barry Hines is wonderful too.
Album: What’s Going On. It’s Marvin Gaye, and it’s moving and funky and about really important stuff.
What would you choose as a last meal?
Fresh Norfolk crab with mayonnaise on toast; roast free-range chicken with tarragon and lemon, buttery mashed potatoes and Brussels sprout tops; a big fat cheese selection.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
To be a guest on Desert Island Discs.
What is it you most love about being on stage?
Just being out there and telling a story. Every night is slightly different.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
An archivist in a dusty old library with plenty of paper, scissors and glue.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is currently booking at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until June 2016. You can book tickets through us here.