Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical

Mar 31 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Visually impressive

Playhouse: Wed 29 Mar – Sat 15 Apr 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical is an impressive exhibition of theatrical skill that will satisfy fans of the story.

A new Leeds Playhouse production of the hit West End adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s book, this tells the familiar tale of Charlie Bucket. Charlie becomes one of five lucky youngsters to win the opportunity to visit the chocolate factory of the mysterious Willy Wonka.

Noah Walton and Michael D’Cruze. Pic: Johan Persson.

The story is well known in various forms, and it is clear that many of the audience will be well-versed in it. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that the first half is so slow. A desire to follow faithfully Dahl’s original results in what appears to be a series of false starts, with the other Golden Ticket winners introduced at length. Elsewhere, Charlie’s home life dominates, which does give full value to Simon Higlett’s ingenious folding steampunk set.

After the interval, it becomes a completely different production, supplying much of the pace and visual attractiveness previously lacking. The performances, however, are overshadowed by Simon Wainwright’s eye-popping video design. This is thoroughly arresting at first but is consequently overused, with the visual overload tending to work against any emotional engagement.

perfectly adequate

David Greig’s book is thoroughly serviceable; Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s songs are perfectly adequate without being showstopping. The decision to add a couple of Leslie Bricusse – Anthony Newley numbers from the 1971 film version (The Candy Man and Pure Imagination) is understandable but does tend to overshadow the rest of the score.

Gareth Snook and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cast. Pic: Johan Persson.

Even if much of the heavy lifting does appear to be done by the set and video work, there is no denying the effort that has been put in by everyone else involved in a resolutely big-budget affair. James Brining’s direction is full of visual invention, and makes good use of the large cast.

MD Ellen Campbell’s live band is unflaggingly tuneful, with the balance between band and singers more successful than several recent musicals at the Playhouse.

troubling amorality

Gareth Snook’s Willy Wonka is every bit the presence you might hope – dominant without being overpowering, supplying just the right level of troubling amorality without being too frightening.

Noah Walton (one of four young performers sharing the role of Charlie) is excellent. He is clear-voiced, sympathetic and weighed down by the troubles of life while retaining his cheerfully inventive optimism.

A scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Pic: Johan Persson.

The rest of the ensemble have their moment in the spotlight. There is some clever doubling, notably by Leonie Spilsbury as the put-upon Mrs Bucket and the equally unfortunate Mrs Teavee. Michael D’Cruze’s Grandpa Joe is an engaging performance.

The decision to have the other Golden Ticket winners played by adults makes sense on a purely practical level but does detract a little from the effect, despite the sterling efforts of Robin Simões da Silva’s Augustus Gloop and Kazmin Borrer’s Veruca Salt.

odd note

As with much of the more worrying elements in Dahl’s work, the problem of how to portray the Oompa-Loompas is an ongoing one, but the choice to have them as robot-like characters strikes an odd note.

In the end, all of the spectacle and pizzazz tends to put the whole production a little out of balance, and the result lacks heart and real magic. A story that is supposed to be about the power of human invention ends up impressing with its cleverness, rather than stimulating the imaginations of its audience.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval
Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Wednesday 29 March – Saturday 15 April 2023
Tues-Sat (and Sun 2 Apr) at 7.00 pm; Matinees Wed, Thur, Sat, Sun at 2.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

A scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Pic: Johan Persson.


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