When Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first opened in the West End three years ago I wasn’t initially interested in seeing it after hearing that there would be original songs rather than the soundtrack from the Gene Wilder film (apart from Pure Imagination). However, after reading fantastic reviews and hearing that the show is to close in January 2017, I decided to catch it in the West End and I am so glad that I did.
The show is beautifully directed by Sam Mendes and the set and costume design by Mark Thompson is wonderful. The initial colour scheme of the set is quite dull and dark reflecting the Bucket family’s poverty, and this juxtaposes wonderfully with the bursts of colour when we meet the golden ticket holders via a huge television at the rear of the stage and finally get to the factory in the second half. Projections are used when the characters are moving from one part of the factory to another which is quite simple but effective. Several techniques are used to convey the Oompa Loompas’ size and they are all very clever.
Some elements of the original story have been updated and these worked well, such as making Violet Beauregarde a famous popstar and Mike Teevee an ADHD video game addict. As for the lack of songs from the film, I needn’t have worried at all. The composers also wrote the songs for Hairspray (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and that is obvious when you hear them. I was humming several of them the following day, particularly Vidiots!
The performers are all very strong. The grandparents are hilarious and I adored Grandpa Joe (Barry James). Jonathan Slinger is a very funny but quite dark and sinister Willy Wonka. The child actors were all very talented, and Charlie was adorable. My one criticism would be of Verucca Salt -her screeching suited the character brilliantly but it made her very difficult to understand at times.
This is a fantastic production and I’m so glad that I decided to see it after my initial hesitation. There’s a perfect mix of humour and emotion (I welled up twice, when Charlie found his ticket and during Pure Imagination). Catch it if you can before it ends, and if not, hopefully there will be a UK tour at some point, and if there is I’ll definitely be seeing it again.