It’s a children’s literary classic, and has been the subject of two blockbuster Hollywood Movies. Now Warner Brothers studios have taken a step into the theatre World with Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Debuting only this week after five years in the pipeline, there has been much hype surrounding the show since the announcement of its arrival to London’s West End last summer. With a heavy publicity campaign and teaser trailers since the beginning of the year, the show has a lot of pressure to perform well, and defy critics who are ready to pounce on adaptations of family films (probably the same ones that sounded the death knell for Box Office flop Shrek, which lasted little over a year previously in this very theatre).
Well there’s no doubt that this show is set to be a firm West End favourite. Bursting with colour, imagination and special effects, this show has incorporated all sorts of state of the art staging to bring a 21st Century musical to life. Having already been interpreted as a movie twice before, I was sceptical as to how they would be able to portray the story on a different platform while still keeping the storyline interesting. What I found was a complete reinvention of every character accompanied by top notch lyricism that not even Dahl himself would have been able to come up with. The greedy hog from the story that was Augutus Gloop stayed quite close to the original character: Fat ,Bavarian etc. Him and his mother were captured perfectly by the actors in all their yodeling style, with one of the standout scenes occurring when Gloop needs rescued from the chocolate waterfall (very clever use of holograms). Cue the 21st century Oompa Loompas, with a clear lack of height remonstrated by incorporating some clever Japanese kabuki theatre.
Which brings me on quite nicely to the Ooompa Loompas. Just how on Earth were they going to make these iconic characters new and fresh and exciting for a stage adaption?
Well with perfectly executed choreography and those all important clever lyrics that they song so well in the movie. Although they didn’t use the original movie lyrics (which Warner Brothers have the rights to anyway) the new lyrics were equally as funny and derogatory to the children’s misdemeanors. SPOILER ALERT: Coolest point in the performance was when they do a number very similar to a Daft Punk music video, Awesome!
One of the major surprises of the production was the portrayal of the gum chewing Violet (“You’re turning Violet, Violet!”) Beauregarde. She was turned into a hip-hopping, Californian child star with an entourage of people to assist her every step of the way. While the musical direction of the character was genius and gave her a whole new dimension (Willow Smith could definitely play the potential broadway version) I was very disappointed with how they turned her into a blueberry. Yes! I know, I’m spoiling it for anyone who has lived under a rock and has never read the book or watched the movies, but this is very important. The movement to change Violet was quite lackluster and you can tell the production team are using the previews to work out the kinks. She emerges after around 90 secs, with a purple light shining on her, looking like a huge purple disco ball, not a blueberry. And she wasn’t even rolled off stage! Definitely a low point of the show.
However the good points outweigh the bad, with some nice comic relief coming from Grandpa Joe, played by Nigel Planer, and Charlie’s other bed-ridden grandparents, essential for the adults in the audience. All of the child actors deliver stunning performances and ooze confidence on stage, with Charlie a little forgettable but sweet all the same, playing the character very true to heart. The star of the Show has to be Mr Willy Wonka himself, played by Douglas Hodge. Captured in all his weirdness and wonderfulness, Hodge manages to stay true to the iconic character without trodding on the toes of those who have played the role before him. Miles better than the downright weird Johnny Depp, and not quite as memorable as the legendary Gene Wilder, his performance delivers the punch that every West End show needs to have the crowd whooping, cheering and most importantly engaging in the show’s progress.
The biggest applause for this show should go to the production team themselves. Every set was jaw dropping, and the ease at which it changed from one scene to the next was miraculous, sometimes even not quite believing my eyes at how it all went so smoothly!(Amzing what £10 million pounds can do!).
A must see for families and Dahl fans, allow yourself the treat down to Covent Garden to see a show which believes in a “World of Pure Imagination”.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is set to run at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane until june 2014.