13 April 2023
Most people of a certain age will know and love the tale of Golden Ticket winner Charlie Bucket and his visit to the wondrous Chocolate Factory of the mysterious Mr Willy Wonka from the 1971 Gene Wilder film. It was certainly one of my favourite films and books as a child. The characters, their fates and the soundtrack are legendary!
Those a bit younger may better know the 2005 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. Either way, Roald Dahl's books and characters are beloved to a world-wide audience and my hopes for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical adaptation were high!
In Act I we meet Charlie (Isaac Sugden), his family and the other golden ticket winners. I really enjoyed this act! The set by Simon Higlett takes us from Charlie's home, to the streets, to the gates of Wonka's factory and back again beautifully.
Charlie practically carries this first act with a lot of stage time and numerous solos. Isaac Sugden is incredible! What a lot of pressure and he never missed beat. So too Charlie's mum (Leonie Spilsbury) is exquisite in her role.
The other golden tickets winners are played by adult cast members but it's very well done and does not distract from the story at all. Their costumes are great and their 'introduction' songs are fun.
Although I did miss some of the songs from the 1971 film, the first act is full of interest and the story moves along at pace.
We finally meet the elusive Willy Wonka (Gareth Snook) right at the end of Act 1. He burst onto stage, opens the factory gates and set up anticipation for what is to come in Act II!
This role was made for Gareth Snook. He is charming, funny, yet mysterious and slightly sinister as Mr Wonka. Exactly as he should be! If Charlie owned act I, Wonka owns act II. He's hardly off stage and leads most of the action front and centre. Particularly impressive are the many phrases that Wonka says back to front. That must be so difficult but it was all delivered perfectly.
In Act II we lose the physical sets of the first half and the show relies almost entirely on projections. This works well in some scenes and not so well in others.
I found the chocolate room entirely disappointing for example. For a show that has the word 'chocolate' in its title, there was a distinct lack of chocolate and everything was, well, flat. The chocolate waterfall was so small it was barely a trickle. Gutted! I expected this scene to be one of the most magical and dazzling in the entire show and it was none of those things. The chocolate room needs more life and wonder to it.
So too the Veruca Salt scene with the squirrels and the bad nuts. There was some physical set but only one big squirrel, and one or two token toy squirrels in back. Here is where they missed an opportunity to use the projections to enhance the visuals and up the drama. A projection of hundreds of squirrels would've provided a wow moment and would've made the situation when it turns, feel more threatening.
The blueberry scene with Violet Beauregard and the TV scene with Mike TV are both done well. Mike's demise in particular provided one of the true laugh-out-loud moments in the show.
One scene where the projections do work brilliantly is with the Wonka boat. There are 290 LED panels set into the stage floor for this production and here is where we see them come alive! Reminiscent of the Bifrost, here the floor panels merge seamlessly with the backdrop to blur the lines and transform into a rainbow river. It's the most realistic visual in the show and looks stunning.
The choreography and dancing from the Oompa Loompas is also a highlight of Act II.
Overall, I didn't love the score, although it is fine and the orchestra are brilliant! Two songs from the original 1971 film make it to the musical: 'The Candy Man' and 'Pure Imagination' - and they were without doubt the standout songs.
I enjoyed my time at the Chocolate Factory. The cast are excellent and the story is timeless. I expected to be delighted and wow'ed a little more than I was, and for this reason I do think the show will struggle to hold the attention of, in particular, very young children.
It is a difficult book to adapt, as it does have some moments of darkness, poverty and sadness. But that is needed so that the colours and marvel of the chocolate factory seem so brilliant later on. Tricky!
One recommendation for the production and receiving theatres: You need to sell Wonka chocolate bars! There is merch on sale, from hoodies to magnets etc, but every child (and adult) craves a Wonka chocolate bar at some point before or during this show. I know some supermarkets used to sell them - I tried Tesco before the show and had no luck - and there may be distribution / rights issues... But again - for a show with 'chocolate' in the name not to be selling branded chocolate seems a missed opportunity.
🌟Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical, UK tour, at Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre April 2023 🌟
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