By: Su Carroll, TRP Reviewer
This show has everything going for it. Let’s start with the extraordinary world created by Roald Dahl in his 1964 book set in the secret factory where the mysterious Willy Wonka makes such delightful confectionery as lickable wallpaper, the three-course meal bubblegum and the coveted everlasting gobstopper.
The 1971 film starring Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, put the eccentric character at the heart of the film, with the addition of a score which included such popular songs as The Candy Man and Pure Imagination. The story of poor, hardworking and honest Charlie Bucket’s search for a Golden Ticket to help his family struck a chord with children and that affection has been passed down the generations.
For the book lovers and film fans this show comes with high expectations. The team behind the show is formidable. Bookwriter David Greig has an impressive record for tackling challenging adaptations including Touching the Void about two climbers facing disaster and Solaris, a science fiction thriller set in space. Here he balances the two main characters with dexterity and doesn’t shy away from the reality of Charlie’s poverty. In his cramped, junk-filled home Charlie’s single mum works long and hard and all four grandparents are sharing the same bed.
Music comes courtesy of Marc Shaiman, whose work seamlessy merged with the original classic songs in Mary Poppins Returns, and Tony, Grammy and Olivier award winning Scott Wittman. Director is James Brining who, in his tenure at Leeds Playhouse, has brought A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Wizard of Oz to the stage with great success. So far, so good.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical is an extraordinary achievement, almost against the odds. The story is a slow starter by necessity. There has to be a search for five Golden Ticket winners – Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violett Beauregarde and Mike Teavee and, at the eleventh hour, Charlie. Willy Wonka’s factory and the fate of the undeserving winners is where the fun lies and we can’t wait to be there. The journey from chocolate bar to chocolate waterfalls is divided by the interval. But here the best is saved until last.
Entering Willy Wonka’s world is an explosion of colour and excitement (and I swear I could smell some fruity, sugary delights). Set and costume designer Simon Higlett gets round the huge challenges the story presents with a set the uses light and magic to project images on the floor and the backdrop to keep the action moving.
Audiences loved the nut-sorting squirrels, Violet’s blueberry fate and Augustus’s chocolate disaster. Simple stage tricks – like the way Mike is shrunk – work well against the high-tech effects. What stops this show from being just a sum of all its parts is the human element. It is Gareth Snook as Candy Man Willy Wonka and Amelia Minto as Charlie that give the show its heart. Their connection was surprisingly emotional in a show dominated by tricks. What you can’t fake is the bubbly, excited chatter of young people leaving the auditorium. Remember, as the song says, the Candy Man mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.