Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to see the brand new West End show, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical. As a fan of the original film (not so much of the Johnny Depp remake) I jumped at the chance to let the big kid in me relive the wonderful ideas that Willy Wonka had created. I’d not yet seen a show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, but as soon as I entered I was blown away by the stunning décor and rather impressive artwork. The whole place felt very special and upon entry into the royal circle, the view of the stage and the beautiful royal boxes made me feel even luckier to be there!
The curtain lifted and the scene was set with the tiny, run down house that was home to the Bucket family. Isaac Rouse who played Charlie for my performance was strong and confident with his solo numbers and really took the role on well. I wanted a little more from Grandpa Joe as he seemed to just follow Charlie around, but he added to the show nonetheless.
The first half was building up the story as the film did, letting us into the struggling life of the Buckets and setting the scene for their inevitable change in luck. I think knowing the story so well does take away from the effect of Charlie eventually finding the golden ticket, and it wasn’t until the second half of the show that it all really got going. The introduction of each of the ticket winners was definitely a highlight from the first half, especially the Gloops and the delightful Verucca Salt.
Tension was building as there was still no sign of the man himself. As the curtain rose for the second half I was waiting for a little more ‘oomph’. Thankfully, Willy Wonka’s first appearance came in the opening act. A sad, ailing man stepped out from the darkness of the factory before dancing down the steps and showcasing his colourful outfit…this is more like it! As he whisked the children around the factory with just enough wit but not too much, my wish for a great Willy Wonka performance had been granted.
Both Wonka and the oompa loompas were the two key factors that could have completely ruined the show for me, but luckily enough both were played to perfection. Avoiding the obvious casting for Wonka’s helpers, director and creator of everything fabulous about this show, Sam Mendes had opted for a combination of two people for every oompa loompa – a brilliant decision as it gave the puppets so much character. Mendes’ staging of the production in general was mind-blowing and without a doubt it was the highlight of the whole thing.
One by one, the children met their fate in the factory until we were left with only Charlie Bucket. The key scene for me was the glass elevator, but how on earth would they recreate it? The stage went dark with just the twinkling lights of the ‘city’ below as the elevator rose from the stage with Charlie and Wonka inside. As it hovered above the audience to the tune of Pure Imagination, the lack of other iconic songs seemed insignificant. It was a truly beautiful way to end the show.
Did I love the show? I’m not sure…I loved the second half but I hoped for a little more from the opening few acts. The saving graces of Willy Wonka, the oompa loompas and the staging are what made it a successful show, and there’s no doubt that families will definitely want to book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tickets to see it. One thing’s for sure…the big kid in me was very satisfied with the performance.
Want to read more? Check out Darren’s Review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory