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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

"It has to be believed to be seen." — Willy Wonka
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Cast outside the gates of the Wonka Factory (Photo: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)
Long awaited is another musical derived from Roald Dahl's book for children, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With Matilda still packing them in, Sam Mendes' production is eagerly anticipated. But while the magic of Matilda is in its appeal to adults as well as children, the strongest appeal this time is to the younger generation.

The first act of Charlie is somewhat problematic because it is the dark story of the grindingly poor Bucket family from which Charlie (Louis Suc) comes—his bed ridden grandparents, Grandpa George (Billy Boyle) and Grandma Georgina (Myra Sands) and Grandpa Joe (Nigel Planer) and Grandma Josephine (Roni Page).

Dark and delicious are Roald Dahl's sinister books to the minds of children. We suspect that the local tramp might well be Willy Wonka in disguise and the stage comes alive when Douglas Hodge appears as the purple jacketed, green trousered, striped walking cane wielding Wonka.

Through the television comes the news of the winners of the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory, but not before we have had a lesson in the origins, science and manufacture of chocolate. The first location is Bavaria where lederhosen clad, yodelling Augustus Gloop (Harrison Slater) and his capacious Mama (Jasna Ivir) uncover the first winning ticket. Augustus is followed by, from the UK, the upper class ballet dancer Veruca Salt (Polly Allen) and her stockbroker belt daddy (Clive Carter). Paul J Medford enters as Mr Beauregarde with his very talented singing and dancing daughter Violet (India Ria Amarteifio).

Finally Mike Tee Vee (Adam Mitchell) who has been updated and should maybe be called Mike Pee Cee because his obsession is with computer games rather than television. Mike Tee Vee's mother is played by Iris Roberts. Charlie Bucket finds the very last ticket to this escapade in the Chocolate Factory which has many floors and many windows behind which we see swirling candy stripes stained glass.

Act Two sees the amazing set design of the technicolour garden chocolate room with "everything you see, every tree, bird, flower is made of chocolate" and Augustus Gloop gets stuck in to some serious scoffing. Behind the scenes are the Ooompa-Loompas (full sized adults but on their knees) and I am not quite sure how they managed the tap routine but they are magnificent.

Clearly Health and Safety isn't a problem for the Wonka Factory as one by one the children fall foul of the factory. Violet Beauregarde will swell until she resembles a fully rounded blueberry with the inevitable consequence. I loved the nut room with the giant squirrels being ridden by Oompa-Loompa jockeys.

The Jerry Bricusse - Antony Newley song "Pure Imagination" is beautiful but much of the other music is pleasant but forgettable. I am indebted to 6 and a half year old Lamia for her critical appraisal. At the interval she told me, "The best bit so far was when the grandparents froze with surprise when they saw the golden ticket."

Towards the end of the night I saw the show, the great green glass elevator which is meant to whisk Charlie and Mr Wonka off to the sequel was suspended, swinging several feet above the stage while Mr Wonka looked down nervously. I'll give Lamia the final word, "My favourite bit of the second act was the MISTAKE when the elevator got stuck!" So Charlie and the Chocolate Factory goes into my collection of technical mishaps in musical theatre meant for children along with the night that the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car failed to fly but best of all, when Philip Schofield as Dr Dolittle was stuck at the top of the proscenium arch in a rowing boat adlibbing with a duck and an animatronic pig for half an hour.
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Music by Marc Shaiman
Book by David Greig
Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Original novel by Roald Dahl
Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring: Douglas Hodge, Paul J Medford, Clive Carter, Nigel Planer, Jasna Ivir, Iris Roberts, Billy Boyle, Roni Page, Myra Sands
Children: Jack Costello/Tom Klenerman/ Isaac Rouse/Louis Suc, Harrison Slater/Jenson Steele/Regan Stokes, Polly Allen/Tia Noakes/Ellie Simons, India Ria Amarteifio/Adrianna Bertola/Jade Johnson/Mya Olaye, Jay Heyman/Adam Mitchell/Luca Toomey
With: Alex Clatworthy, Jack Shalloo, Kate Graham, Ross Dawes, Michelle Bishop, Joe Allen, David Birch, Mireia Mambo Bokele, Nia Fisher, Derek Hagen, Clare Halse, Mark Iles, Daniel Ioannou, Kieran Jae, Natalie Moore-Williams, Sherrie Pennington, Damien Poole, Antony Reed, Paul Saunders, Alex Louize Bird, Simon Campbell, Matthew Clark, Jennifer Davison, Jane McMurtie, Jay Webb
Choreography by Peter Darling
Design: Mark Thompson
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Video and Projection Design: Jon Driscoll
Sound: Paul Arditti
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Puppet and Illusion Design: Jamie Harrison
Musical Director: Nicholas Skilbeck
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 858 8877
Booking to 31st May 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th June 2013 performance at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London WC2B 5JF (Tube: Covent Garden)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "Creation Overture"
  • "Almost Nearly Perfect"
  • "The Amazing Tale of Mr. Willy Wonka"
  • "A Letter from Charlie Bucket"
  • "More of Him to Love"
  • "When Veruca Says"
  • "The Double Bubble Duchess"
  • "It's Teavee Time"
  • "If Your Mother Were Here"
  • "Don't Ya Pinch Me, Charlie"
  • "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen"
Act Two
  • "Strike That! ReverseIt!"
  • "Simply Second Nature"
  • "Auf Wiedersehen Augustus Gloop"
  • "Juicy!"
  • "Veruca's Nutcracker Sweet"
  • "Vidiots"
  • "Pure Imagination"
  • written by Lesley Bricusse and Antony Newley "A Little Me"
  • "It Must Be Believed" (Reprise)
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