#Tweetingit – review in 140 characters: Roald Dahl, Oompa-Loompas + cool cat in a top hat and chequered trousers!? = irresistible chocolate fantasy. 5*
Roald Dahl once said ‘watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. Man, ain’t that the truth! As the lights dimmed, I raced back to my childhood and the first time I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; could it possibly be as good as I imagined it? Notwithstanding the films starring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp, the stage is a much greater test of the story’s strength and durability. And yes it is good and took me further than my imagination would ever have gone as a child.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Charlie tells of Willy Wonka, owner of the greatest chocolate factory in the world. When his secret recipes are stolen, he closes the doors and no workers are seen entering or leaving the factory for 15 years; although his chocolate is still being produced and sold around the world. However, Willie comes up with a plan to open his factory and reveal his secrets to five lucky children who find golden tickets inside Wonka chocolate bars. Greedy Augustus Gloop is the first to find a golden ticket, followed by the spoilt Veruca Salt and competitive gum chewing Violet Beauregarde; chocolate hating Mike Teevee is the fourth winner while Charlie Bucket holds the final golden ticket. Charlie opts to take Grandpa Joe with him, a former factory employee; the other four children are accompanied by their parents on what proves to be a wondrous, magical tour of a lifetime.
I found my jaw continually crashing to the ground as the set transformed into different parts of the factory. It was a magnificent spectacle to witness; I couldn’t help but marvel at the simplicity and ingenuity of the overall design. The visuals were complemented by highly creative puppetry and illusions that left me wondering how they achieved such brilliant effects. The songs were bright and tuneful with smart choreography that got the very best from a talented cast. The Oompa-Loompa tribe were soon revealed as the factory’s workforce; they toiled like Trojans, singing and dancing for payment in cocoa beans. Alex Jennings, always a reassuring presence on the West End stage, played Willie Wonka with a cool, sureness of touch while Barry James as Grandpa Joe and Paul J. Medford as Mr Beauregarde lent solid support. The juvenile leads were excellent, displaying a nerveless air of professionalism throughout.
I tried hard to find fault with this production, but couldn’t detect even the slightest chink in its armour. With the calibre of creatives involved (Sam Mendes among others) you wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection; but a technically brilliant show can leave the audience cold unless it buys into the story’s ideas; so I return to my opening quote from the genius that was Roald Dahl; did I believe in magic…and did I find it….? For 2 hours 30 minutes, I was 10 years old again and not only found the magic but embraced it. As the song goes, use pure imagination.
Author: Roald Dahl
Book: David Greig
Music & Lyrics: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Choreography: Peter Darling
Set & Costume Design: Mark Thompson
Director: Sam Mendes
Producers: Langley Park Productions/Neal Street Productions/Playful Productions
Box Office: 0844 858 8877
Booking until: 4 June 2016