Review by Daz Gale
It might be Matilda that has got everybody talking over the last few months but it’s not the only Roald Dahl musical adaptation vying for your attention as the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is back on a UK tour. Following a Christmas season in Leeds, the 2023 tour started in Milton Keynes last week. Having loved the book and the film (the original obviously) as a kid and the West End production of this years ago, I was looking forward to enter the world of Willy Wonka once again. But was this production as sweet as I hoped?
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel, the musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory premiered in the West End in 2013 playing until 2017. Since then it has enjoyed a run on Broadway and tours in America and Australia but this new production marks its regional premiere in the UK. Telling the story of Charlie Bucket who is one of the five lucky winners of a golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each of the children is in turn picked off in gruesome fashion in scenes that feel more reminiscent of a horror film like Scream… but this is a family show so everybody is ok in the end… probably.
Roald Dahl’s timeless story has been adapted for the stage by David Greig who ensures all the greatest elements of the book are still present in a way that works on the stage. While each adaptation of the work varies somewhat and has its own identity, the key ingredients to what makes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remains making this simply delicious to watch.
Whereas the West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory relied on impressive set pieces which really made the stage feel magical, this touring version is far more reliant on the use of video design, meaning we are left to use our own imagination. Simon Higletts fairly grand looking set design is always a delight to look at, it comes alive thanks to Simon Wainwrights Video design, still managing to create a sense of wonder.
James Brining has fun with his direction, bringing to life the Buckets home initially and then making the Chocolate Factory come to life with limited props. Fantastic choreography from Emily Jane Boyle and lighting from Tim Mitchell means this show is always an extreme joy to look at, while Mike Walkers sound design ensures it sounds every bit as good as it looks. An inspired touch is the use of sign language across various scenes making this production beautifully accessible.
Only two of the classic songs from the film, ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘The Candy Man’ are present in this production. Joining them are a host of new numbers from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. While it is hard to match such timeless numbers, they are almost nearly perfect with ‘Strike That! Reverse It!’ and ‘Don’tcha Pinch Me, Charlie’ among the highlights.
The iconic role of Willy Wonka is played by Gareth Snook who finds his own unique interpretation of the character to sit alongside previous legends who have portrayed him before. Deliberately disinterested at times, he exudes eccentricity and confidence in a mostly captivating person, though potentially one or two choices may not have landed in quite the way intended. It is hard not to compare to previous versions though and he should be commended for making it his own.
The role of Charlie Bucket is shared by four children. On this occasion, it went to Noah Walton who was completely sensational as the sensitive and caring Charlie. Instantly loveable, Noah displayed a real warmth that resonated throughout. With a beautiful singing voice and great acting ability, he is a constant joy to watch.
The other four golden ticket winners are played by adults in this production but you wouldn’t know thanks to the incredible performances from each of them. Kazmin Borrer is perfectly bratty as Veruca Salt in a scene stealing performance and Robin Simoes Da Silva is delightful as Augustus Gloop. Teddy Hinde is an undoubted standout as Mike Teavee while Marisha Morgan gives a fantastic turn as Violet Beauregarde.
Other highlights among the fantastic cast are Christopher Howell who is exceptional in his turn as Veruca’s father. Leonie Spilsbury tales on the dual roles of Mrs Bucket and Mrs Teavee fabulously while a special mention must go to the beautifully heart-warming portrayal of Grandpa Joe from Michael D’Cruze who bursts with life in a spot on performance.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been loved through the years by multiple generations, and this latest production of the musical adaptation ensures a whole new generation will be able to fall in love with the story. Watching kids and adults in the audience be wowed by the true magic of this show was a testament to the beauty of theatre.
While it may not be as slick as the West End run, this is still a highly enjoyable production, boosted by its top notch cast. Ultimately, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a sweet show that will leave you wanting to come back for more. Get yourself a golden ticket if you can.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until 5th March.
It tours around the UK until 26th November. Full dates and tickets from www.charlieandthechocolatefactory.co.uk
Photos by Johan Persson