“Come with me, and you’ll see, inside a world of pure imagination” sings Willy Wonka. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the musical is a joyful celebration of creativity, ideas, and imagination. Even the program has a page for your ideas and sketches.
Imagination is the central hero in every aspect of this outstanding production, both in storyline and execution. This production team (a crew of 90!) bend the laws of space to fit so much into the Crown Theatre stage footprint through inventive use of lighting and perspective, and the best video projection you’re likely to experience in theatre (huge round of applause there to Jeff Sugg, Japhy Weideman, and Mark Thompson). From the paper airplane of ideas to the chocolate room wall butterflies, you will be gasping in delight.
The imagination continues to soar with joyful choreography (continue the applause for Joshua Bergasse), with case in point the breathtaking Mrs Bucket dream dance sequence under a rain of stars, and hilarious ensemble numbers including the lederhosen dancers in Mrs Gloop’s item More of Him to Love.
Now the big secret in this production is the Oompa Loompas….and without giving away any spoilers, they have to be seen to be believed….or “believed to be seen” as Wonka would say. Just don’t miss your chance for an Oompa sighting!
Every character makes the most of their moments on stage – even the hilarious vegetable seller Mrs. Green, and grumpy one-liner Grandpa George, played respectively by Euan Doidge and James Haxby. The Golden ticket parent-child pairs were all brilliant, with a standout performance by Madison McKoy channelling Jamie Foxx in his jazzy turn as father, publicist and enabler Mr Beauregard.
Now for the big two – Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has more storyline than your typical musical, and it is primarily led by these two. The first Act is all Charlie – his dreams, innocence and family, while Wonka gets to shine in Act two in all his crazy glory (“Strike that, reverse it, next time I’ll rehearse it”). In Charlie we hope for purpose, karma and equality, while the cast holds a silly wonky mirror to ourselves reflecting gluttony, greed, immediate gratification, narcissism, self absorption and entitlement.
Willy Wonka, performed by Stephen Anderson, is equal parts silly and cynical. It is a multifaceted performance of brilliant lines, and could easily become a one-sided character if played by a lesser actor. Vocally, it was difficult to understand some of the lyrics in his items though.
Charlie is a sweet hopeful dreamer, played by a rotating cast of Cooper Matthews, Flynn Nowlan, Phineaus Knickerbocker, and Charlie Dunn. Seeing Cooper Matthews, who is making his professional debut at age 12 was a delight. Frequently Charlie holds a song or scene all on his own, with a highlight being A Letter from Charlie Bucket, and never once did you notice his acting or vocals falter. A stellar performance Cooper!
For those parents wondering about age suitability, this one is best for those high-school aged and up. While most of the adult jokes will go over their heads (“Come visit my factory Mr Wonka…” *wink wink*), there are some murderous, glowing eyed, ballet dancing squirrels that would give this writer’s four year old nightmares.
Whether your first taste of Wonka was the novel, the 70s movie, or the Johnny Depp movie remake, this musical gives honour to Dahl’s creativity (and will reignite all your childhood candyland dreams). Childhood bookworms are often nervous when interpretations of classic Dahl stories are released, but this well-crafted script holds closely to the novel, with some small dark twists. It celebrates Dahl’s use of language and silliness, holding true to the ethos of the Roald Dahl world where creativity and joy are celebrated, and small children triumph over the foolish grown-ups.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really is a land of pure imagination… just what a night at the theatre should be.