Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: the musical

This weekend my cousins were in town and we did that thing where you try and get some cheap theatre tickets. Turned out the only ones available in our price range were to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so off we toddled to see the musical. I wasn’t really expecting much. I’d not heard too much about it, but any adverts I’d seen were the usual. You know, “fantastic show”, “wonderful performance”. Nothing that really had me thinking that I had to see it, but I love Roald Dahl so was happy enough to have a nice night with my family.

It was awesome.

Charlie himself and the rest of the children were incredible. I wish I could tell you who we watched, but I didn’t make a note of it at the time, and there are no photos of them on the website. However, if all of them are anywhere near the standard of the ones that I saw, it doesn’t matter who you see. They’ll be great. I loved seeing Violet Beauregarde reimagined as a sassy pre-teen pop/reality star sensation and Mike Teevee as a hyper-active video-game player. Plus, it’s always lovely to see diversity in shows like this. I really liked the way they had kept the original feel of Dahl’s book, but added to it so that it fit into the modern day. This had been done not just with character but the script as well. The songs had lines that I definitely knew from the books, a little bit of familiarity in new music, which can sometimes be difficult to get into. At times the diction was a little messy, making it difficult to understand exactly what was being said, but ultimately you could still get the general gist of it.

The characterisation of Willy Wonka was somewhat sporadic. At times he was the lovely eccentric that you can see running a chocolate factory, and at other times, he was just plain mean. Granted it’s been years since I’ve actually read the book, but I remember underhanded slights, not full frontal insults. That was what I loved about Willy Wonka, his rudeness was always cleverly disguised. This Willy Wonka switched between two different personalities which meant he was somewhat difficult to empathise with.

This disconnect was more than made up for however, by the strong and obvious family love between the Buckets. Near the end of the first half Mr and Mrs. Bucket have such a heart wrenching duet that I had tears in my eyes. Even though you knew that eventually Charlie would get his Golden Ticket, your heart went out to him in his disappointment at not winning with his birthday bar. The Grandparents provided wonderful entertainment, both through support to Charlie and comic relief. Grandpa Joe obviously had a much larger role than the other three, but despite that didn’t over-shadow them during his scenes with them.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is such a fantastic book party because of the amazing imagery that Dahl creates. The factory is literally a place of pure imagination and no real life show would work without at least being able to recreate that world in part. When the curtain came up for the second half, revealing the interior of the chocolate factory, I actually gasped out loud. It was breathtaking in it’s intricacy and vividness. While the sets of the other rooms were less visually stunning than that first one, they were still incredible and so clever. Particularly the room where we say goodbye to Mike Teevee.

The set and costuming design seemed to have taken inspiration from the two Willy Wonka films, but just little pieces here and there. Enough to let the stage retain its own identity. In particular I loved the Bucket’s house and the ingenious way the only bed in the house moved around to accommodate the musical numbers.

I went into the theatre that night not expecting much, but came out grinning ear to ear. It’s a good heart warming show, with good acting and singing, enjoyable musical numbers and eye watering set design. I’d say it was well worth a watch, if you have the opportunity to do so.

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