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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A golden dream, that has to be believed to be seen

| Theatre | 05/11/2013

Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a timeless tale that will entertain readers both old and young for generations. Sam Mendes’ theatrical interpretation of Dahl’s classic is a triumph. From start to end the production encapsulates all that we love about Dahl’s novel, the humanity, the humour, the imaginative world of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; the whole experience is a marvel, and a wonder to watch. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory theatre production preserves Dahl’s moral story, and brings the chocolate world of Willy Wonka alive on stage right before your eyes.

The story begins with our loveable-hero Charlie Bucket, salvaging bits and bobs from the nearby tip for his bedridden grandparents and penniless parents. And of course we all know the story of Charlie so I won’t repeat here for you. But unlike Dahl’s original David Greig’s book tweeks the story so slightly, which adds a heighten level of suspense and humour to the story. Our little hero Charlie’s hopes of discovering a golden ticket are dashed ever so quickly by his grumpy but also the humorous Grandpa-Joe. Even factory owner Willy Wonka is given a slightly darker undertone.

Grandpa-Joe (Nigel Planer) is the real star of the first act. Planer provides numerous laugh-out moments, that had the audience chuckling away in their seats. His insightfulness is second to none, whether he’s referring to trekking across Africa with David Livingstone, fighting in the Crimea, or aiding Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (although these are all questionable, after all Grandpa-Joe is bedbound). Planer brings to stage an extra dose of humour to the first act.

The first act centres on the impoverishment of Charlie and his family. There are also a series of garish TV inserts of the four golden ticket winners. Expect to see an all singing and dancing worldwide nationality extravaganza on stage. From the greedy Bavarian that is Augustus Glopp, to the spoilt English-ballerina Veruca Salt, the gum-chewing rapper that is California’s Violet Beauregarde, and finally Mike Teavee a computer game-enthusiast from the American suburbs. Each has his (or her) own unique choreography and musical number that really brings alive the opening act.
What happens next won’t come as much of a surprise (unless of course you’ve yet to read the novel), young Charlie finds a £1 note, and buys a Wonka bar, and reveals the final golden ticket. Charlie becomes the most fortunate, luckiest and most deserving final recipient of the golden ticket.

Mark Thompson effortlessly brought alive the old impoverished shack that Charlie and his family lived in, but it’s in the second act that his imagination must have just run wild. You would think it impossible to bring alive on stage the chocolate factory of Willy Wonka- well how wrong you are. Thompson creates a visual feast on-stage through the numerous different factory rooms. Each room, whether it is the Chocolate Room, the Inventing Room, or even the Nut Room, and let’s not forget HMS Wonka, has its own distinctive and creative look. Like Wonka says, ‘It has to be believed to be seen.’ Amazing, incredible, spectacular, there are many words that could be used to describe what you see on stage. And that’s not even mentioning the Oompa-Loompas ensemble cast who put on some impressive group performances, one in particular involving giant puppet squirrels, and there’s even a rave on stage involving Mrs Teavee.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

There are four actors that play Charlie; on the night I went I saw the performance of Isaac Rouse. For such a young actor he was able to effortlessly portray the innocence and impoverishment of Charlie. Of course helped by his parents Alex Clatworthy and Jack Shalloo who both show a genuine protective nature towards young Charlie, after all they live to make him happy. This is a show full to the brim of spectacular performances, a theme which continues with Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka. Kitted out in a purple tail-coat, green trousers and a black hat, Hodge is both enthralling and sinister at the same time. But Hodge’s performance excels to new heights with his performance of that old classic that we all know and love from the original film, Pure Imagination. Hodge delivers nothing less than a master-class on stage.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is this year’s hottest golden ticket. The script, the music, the sets, the special effects, the acting- the whole production is a triumph in every department. You think you’ve seen it all in London but you haven’t, not until you’ve seen the Oopma-Loompas.

Written by Sandip Kana
(For more theatre reviews follow @SandipKana )

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