Growing up, I think it’s safe to assume that most children stumbled across at least one Roald Dahl story. Tales that oozed with magic, cheekiness, mystery and everyone, be that child or adult, ultimately getting what they deserved. The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, James and the Giant Peach, the list could go on and on, but over the years a few of these classic stories have leapt from the pages onto our stages, with the biggest hits being Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The latter opened in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2013, where it successfully run for 4 years. A run-on Broadway, US Tours and a run in Australia followed and last year the show launched its first ever UK Tour. Not only does this tour allow more people to enter the magical world of the famous chocolate factory, but it gives it a twist as this is the first production of this show that allows the role of Charlie Bucket to be played by both boys and girls.
Charlie and the chocolate factory tells the story of Charlie Bucket, a young girl (at the performance I attended) who lives with her very loving but very poor family. When the opportunity to win a visit to the famous chocolate factory run by the elusive Willy Wonka emerges, Charlie finds a golden ticket and is whisked away on an adventure that she could never have imagined.
Amelia Minto played the role of Charlie at this performance, and she was utterly charming throughout. Barely off the stage, she is polished, precise and professional with lovely vocals and a beaming smile. Michael D’Cruze ‘s Grandpa Joe is an endearing highlight, a wonderful sense of childlike glee and excitement and his bond with granddaughter Charlie is adorable throughout. Although we don’t actually get to meet the famous candy man until right near the end of the first act, Gareth Snook makes his mark. His Wonka is a mix of darkness and light, smiling one moment and watching children be punished for misbehaviour in sinister ways with little reaction the next. There is an air of superiority, a level of knowing that he is better than others, but yet he is likeable.
Teddy Hinde, Marisha Morgan, Robin Simões Da Silva and Emma Robotham-Hunt played the roles of Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde, Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt respectively, each as unique, over the top and humorous as the last. They are spoilt, bratty and naughty, and have no idea what they have let themselves in for when they enter the factory.
Leonie Spilsbury impresses as Mrs Bucket, with great vocals throughout and a touching bond with her family, doing all that she can to provide for them. Her use of sign language also gives the show a more accessible feel. The ensemble play multiple roles, from news reporters and fellow chocolate lovers. Most notably, they play the famous Oompa Loompa’s, depicted here as robots who rejoice in the dark downfalls of the misbehaving children. Ty-Reece Stewart was a standout with his performance here.
Whilst the set for the majority of act one was large and incredibly detailed as we are taken into the Bucket household and the homes of the golden ticket winners, the set for the factory itself is more simplistic. The stage is left mostly empty, relying heavily on video projection to create everything. It’s effective, I’ll admit, especially in lift scenes as the group move through the factory levels, but it need feel a little bit lacking especially when I hear that the West End production was much larger and full on.
The songs are charming for the most part, if not incredibly wordy in places. I found myself struggling at times to catch every word, as lyrics got lost in dance moves and under the music. All in all, the music is fun, but not overly catchy. The only songs I was left humming was Pure Imagination and The Candyman, the two songs that made the move from the film version to the stage.
Overall, Charlie and the Chocolate factory is fun, family entertainment. Everything that you would expect from the Roald Dahl story, full of colour and adventure with something for everybody.