Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with complimentary tickets for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the purpose of this review
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical has arrived in Cardiff (which is of course the birthplace of the author) for three weeks, as part of its first ever UK and Ireland tour, following success on Broadway and the West End. We
Based on both the beloved children’s book and the 1970s film, which starred Gene Wilder as the eccentric chocolate maker, it delightfully brings to life the tale of impoverished young boy Charlie who finds himself one of five children winning the prize of a lifetime to become the first visitors ever to be allowed inside the world’s greatest chocolate factory.
There’s plenty of nostalgia with songs from the original film – The Candy Man, Pure Imagination, and the Oompa Loompas’ choruses – alongside dozens of new songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the duo behind Hairspray and Mary Poppins Returns among others). Although none of the tunes were particularly memorable or groundbreaking, they really conjure up the classic musicals of old.
The role of Charlie is played on rotation by five young actors aged between around 11 and 13 – tonight was Isaac Sugden’s turn. He’s an incredibly talented performer with warming vocals, so at ease on the stage for someone so young. Also playing the part are Noah Walton, George Hamblin, Amelia Minto and Jessie-Lou Harbie (how great to see girls in the title role).
Welsh-born Gareth Snook plays Willy Wonka, a part so associated with Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp it’s difficult not to feel the weight of both, but Snook more than makes the character his own. He looks exactly as you’d want him to, with purple tailcoat, orange waistcoat, and elaborate top hat, tapping right into the whimsical character, he’s quirky, slightly menacing, but with a good heart beneath it all.
Leonie Spilsbury is Mrs Bucket, she’s warm, charismatic and optimistic despite being the sole provider for Charlie, herself and the four grandparents who haven’t got out of bed for 20 hears. As she is hard of hearing herself, she uses sign language throughout her performance, and often, the other characters sign back to her. This isn’t a BSL-interpreted performance (although there are such performances) but this inclusivity and the natural way in which it’s included is so wonderful to see.
Robin Simoes Da Silva, Kazmin Borrer, Marisha Morgan and Teddy Hinde play Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee respectively, all young adults taking on the children’s roles, but young enough that they don’t look out of place against Charlie. Their costumes and mannerisms are wonderful as each lives up to their vile traits.
Michael D’Cruze is Grandpa Joe, warm, funny and very likeable. It’s long bothered me that he was so eager to jump out of bed the minute the chocolate factory trip was mentioned, after letting Mrs Bucket work her socks off for the past two decades to support them all, but let’s not blame D’Cruze for Dahl’s writing.
When it comes to the scenery, it really is a show of two halves. The first act sees the stage shifting between the ramshackle Bucket house, the sweetshop, and the junk yard where Charlie likes to hunt for treasures, with the scenery opening and closing so seamlessly to reveal the different sets.
The second act relies a lot more on digital backdrops to recreate the insides of the chocolate factory, such as the chocolate river that proves too much of a temptation to Augustus Gloop, and the various sweet treats being conjured in colourful over-sized glory. It looks stunning, but after seeing the clever staging of the first half, I did expect a little more imagination. That said, the squirrels sorting bad nuts from good, and the glass elevator are brilliantly creative and very well executed.
The age guidance is 7+. There’s nothing really inappropriate – the occasional mild innuendo that goes over the children’s heads but which leaves the grown ups chuckling. The Oompa Loompas are slightly sinister and younger children may find them scary, but the scenes in which the children meet their untimely ends are mostly funny, rather than scary.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, until Saturday 20 May. Tickets from £19.50, availability on most dates. Age guidance 7+, no admittance to under 2s. For more information, visit the website here.