Never has the invitation to enter a world of pure imagination been so tempting and so fulfilling, and with a lot of expectations upon it, the musical version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ certainly lives up to its source of inspiration.
A blend of the Wilder and Depp versions come across in this production; the quirky weirdness of both in their creepy and geeky ways pervades through Wonka’s (Alex Jennings) captivating performance, making the mysterious chocolatier an engaging and enthralling character throughout. Indeed, it tinges the musical with a certain sadness at the end when he hands everything to Charlie; the dream becoming reality leaves Wonka celebrating the past he inhabited as he waves goodbye to Charlie and the Buckets.
Speaking of the Buckets, outside of Willy Wonka the grandparents are closely tied with the children regarding the next best set of actors. Their frank singing about death and ageing is absolutely hilarious, which definitely makes this a show for adults as well as kids. The five darlings we follow into the factory are all brilliant too; it’s a hell of a lot to expect a child to perform to such a high standard, but all five kids had no trouble in singing and dancing to perfection. I’m torn between Mike Teavee’s crazy ADHD song and Augustus Gloops hilarious German stereotyping being my favourite out of the kids bits, with Veruca’s stomping and screeching coming closely behind. And of course, we can’t forget the quiet beacon of hope in humanity in the form of Charlie, a fantastic singer and endearing character.
The sets are stunning; nothing is missing from the book or adaptations, and everything brings the dream of Willy Wonka to technicolour life. My pick would be the nut sorting room with the bad nut squirrels, which I found absolutely hilarious; the dancing squirrels are just a delight to watch, and I can only imagine how much fun that is to perform.
Speaking of which, there are no airs and graces about this performance. It is one of the most relaxed productions I’ve ever been to; no one was interrupting as such, but the enjoyment of the kids in the audience and generally upbeat atmosphere was a pleasure to be within, and as such the confines of a theatre production were definitely lifted for an evening of magical fun. The only (very minor!) mar on this was that the staff were patrolling everywhere like prison guards; I don’t know if there was a fear of people photographing and filming, but you barely went ten minutes without seeing the patrol sweep past, it was very odd to say the least.
Nonetheless, I have a feeling that – due to its sheer brilliance and much like its predecessor, ‘Shrek’ at the Theatre Royal – ‘Charlie’ will vacate its seat and travel the country soon enough, and I urge you to spend an evening indulging your imagination with your kids, and enjoying the wonderful world of Willy Wonka.