By: Cathryn Macey, TRP Reviewer
In need of a sugary fix minus the calories and cavities? You’re in luck as Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and The Oompa Loompas are in town……but not for much longer! Guaranteed to give you a confectionary based boost, this dazzling musical version of a much-loved classic is simply irresistible and here until Sunday.
There are some books and films that capture your imagination and curiosity as a child; Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is one of them. Most of us fondly recollect snuggling up with the family on Sunday afternoons to watch Gene Wilder as Wonka. A great introduction to the magic of cinema and storytelling, the screen adaptation of the famous Roald Dahl novel is firmly cemented in pop culture’s history as an iconic film. Ask anyone to hum the original Oompa Loompa theme to you and you’re likely to be met with a cheeky smile followed by a jaunty rendition of this quirky song.
Leeds Playhouse are at the helm of this latest musical re-imagining of a story about a chocolate factory owner and his mad cap competition. The Oompa Loompas are back and so is Willy Wonka. His competition promises its 5 winners a lifetime supply of chocolate bars and an exclusive tour of his premises.
Enticed by the promise of free Wonka bars and a peek behind the doors of the enigmatic entrepreneur’s workshops, young Charlie Bucket is desperate to find a winning Golden Ticket in one of her Wonka wrappers.
Her aged family members are rooting for her, but can Charlie really win when other children are greedily snapping up all the supplies? This timeless tale of the underdog succeeding against all odds is told spectacularly well by all the cast. Its emotional impact is strengthened by its full live orchestra, uplifting songs, and innovative graphics.
The first Act focuses on setting the scene and introducing us to Charlie – the show’s hero and the only eventual competition winner kind enough to think of others.
You see, Charlie is different to the other self-proclaimed brats we meet tonight. Instantly likeable and charming, Amelia Minto plays Charlie in such a down to earth way that we are all on her side. With an impressive singing voice and advanced acting style for someone of her young age, Minto’s Charlie becomes the likeable hero of the piece. Young audience members gasp with utter disbelief and groan in delight when Charlie finally becomes competition winner number 5. Their reaction is testament, of course, to the way Minto makes Charlie seem real to these young, sponge like minds.
The junk yard set framing The Buckets’ bed is ginormous and grey reflecting the bleak, poverty-stricken existence Charlie can escape now she’s won Wonka’s extravagant prize. As we skip excitedly towards Act 2 with Grandpa Joe in tow (played poignantly by Michael D’Cruze), any trace of grey is suddenly stripped from the set in time for Willy Wonka’s bombastic introduction…..
Not that he needs one. Gareth Snook takes the best bits of Wilder and Depp’s Wonka and mixes them together with his own inimitable style creating a breath taking, show stopping entrance. Kids’ necks stretch out enthusiastically to take in Snook and his majestic performance. They don’t want to miss a thing. And neither do the adults who are also in awe of his huge personality and enigmatic stage presence. It takes a lot for me to admit that there is a Wonka out there to rival Wilder, but I think Leeds Playhouse have found him. Praise indeed from this super fan of the 1971 film version.
Act 2 is an explosion of colour, candy and creativity as Snook wows his guests and the audience with a guided tour of his factory. The outstanding combined talents of Simon Higlett, Tim Mitchell and Simon Wainwright (Set, Lighting and Video Designers) transform The Lyric into a modern version of Wonka’s magical world. Every room we remember from the book or film adaptations is re-created in an exciting and original way leaving the crowd with an insatiable appetite for more.
And more is what we get! More songs, more laughter, and more wry, witty observations from our unlikely leader, Willy Wonka. Helping him are the Oompa Loompas who, like the set, have had a reboot. The Oompa Loompas version 2023 are as fantastically strange as ever and add a dark sense of humour to all the songs they feature in. Like a Greek Chorus commenting on the moral failings of the likes of Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt, their performance is original and familiar at the same time.
This show has the highest production values, an unforgettable lead character and a sprinkling of the most special ingredient of them all…love. An unforgettable show and one my seven-year-old son cannot stop talking about.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is on at The Lyric Theatre until Sunday, 18th of June making it a perfect last minute Father’s day present.