Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal
There can scarcely be anyone anticipating this production who has not already seen the two film versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder as an airily odd Willy Wonka in 1971, and the more traumatised character Johnny Depp gave the role in 2005. Repeated often on TV, both versions have now become children’s’ classics, the story and songs from each seared into the national consciousness. There is something about the naughtiness of Roald Dahl’s writing, the acid retribution where bad eggs always get their comeuppance, which appeals to that childish sense of fairness in all of us.
The story starts off unfair: young Charlie Bucket is in a poor but loving family, unable even to have a birthday bar of chocolate. In the midst of a craze to find a winning golden ticket to the Wonka Chocolate Factory tour, his hopes are dashed, but his good attitude wins through.
With such anticipation and expectation, the big question is whether the stage version will disappoint. Will it stand up to the films, will it add anything, take too much away, be spectacular enough? How will they deal with the Oompa Loompas? Part of the pleasure of the show is discovering how these issues are resolved, and so, without giving too much away, yes, it is spectacular, with fabulous sets which both fulfil preconceptions and add new touches.
Douglas Hodge plays Willy Wonka as a magical showman, with colourful charisma and a decent voice. Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe has amiable stage presence, and the entire cast perform with zest as if their life depended on it. Director Sam Mendes uses his movie experience with an overview which ties up loose ends, making Charlie’s inventiveness the quality Wonka sees in him as the right heir to his empire. Many small and large theatrical touches have impact, from a wish upon a star, to the Great Glass Elevator, which makes its impressive appearance near the end. Sweet-producing robots, hilarious Oompa Loompas, great new songs and funny scripting enhance the ingenious staging.
The test of such a show must surely be the reaction of the children in the audience. Not one child seemed to lose attention from the stage all night – a truly enjoyable experience right to the last magical moment.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from 26th June 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – an Introduction here: