Review - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - National Tour

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - National Tour

Roald Dahl’s story of a fantastical chocolate factory and it’s eccentric and flamboyant owner has long been a children’s favourite, and seems like the perfect subject for a musical.

We first meet Charlie dwarfed by a large metallic structure made of the things the more fortunate throw away, and right from the start, we are in no doubt that he is a very resourceful boy, and through leaps in his imagination he is able to put a positive spin on anything and that he has creativity and inventiveness in abundance. Then we’re introduced to his family made up of four elderly grandparents permanently tucked up in one large bed. The relationship between Charlie and his grandparents, particularly his Grampa Joe is wonderfully portrayed, and they tell him the history of the local chocolate factory and its enigmatic owner, who after trouble from the workers of the factory, shut and locked the gates and promptly disappeared from sight. Then it’s announced that he will be offering five lucky children who find a golden ticket in one of his chocolate bars, the chance to tour the factory. Then the story becomes a morality tale as we see each child who wins in stark contrast to the kind hearted and resilient Charlie, they are bratty and selfish, and pandered to by indulgent parents, which couldn’t be further from the relationship Charlie has with his mother. And by the time they are finally introduced to Willy Wonka and experience the magical sights, smells and tastes of this chocolate wonderland each child ends up getting exactly what they deserve.

The whole show centres on Charlie and he spends almost every scene on stage, not even the actor playing Willy Wonka gets as much stage time, appearing just before the end of the first half. Isaac Sugden more than rises to the challenge, he perfectly captures Charlie’s endless enthusiasm as well as his sweet and gentle nature, and he delivers his songs beautifully. He really is the heartbeat of the show. He also builds up a wonderful onstage relationship with Michael D’Cruze as Grampa Joe, whose performance is comedic yet touching in equal measure and his performance of Doncha Pinch Me Charlie was one of my highlights. The other grandparents played by Christopher Howell, Kate Milner Evans and Emily Winter also create wonderful characterisations, not just once, but twice as they also play the parents of Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and Violet Beuregarde. Another touching and tender portrayal comes from Leonie Spilsbury as Mrs Bucket, who also signs the majority of her dialogue, adding a more inclusive element to her performance.  She also gets to deliver one of the two most familiar songs of the score, The Candy Man. Then just like the rest of Charlie’s family she takes on the role of Mike Teavee’s Mother, in complete contrast to Mrs Bucket.

The roles of the other children are portrayed by adults, and as good as each of their performances were, for me I would have liked to have seen the roles portrayed by children, as they were in the original production in the West End when the show debuted at the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane. This would have been more authentic I feel and more in fitting with the fact Charlie is played by a child actor. Finally, Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka gave a quirky and deliberately off kilter performance that fit the character, not easy to play as Wonka is not always likeable, and you never feel like you truly know him or can predict what he’ll do next.

The set design by Simon Higlet is very much an extra character in this show, and clever use of projections and digital effects added the elements of wonder particularly in the scenes set in the factory.

This is something of an enigma of a story and not one that has been entirely solved by the musical, but it still contains some great songs has some wonderful moments that provide a magical world of escape that has to be believed to be seen.

The production is running at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday the 20th of May. Tickets are available here :

Full tour details can be found here: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - The Musical Tour Dates

*** stars

Beverley Anne Harris

Catch Beverley every Wednesday at midday for 'The Musical Lunch Box' here on Box Office Radio