Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Review

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London – 20 February 2016

Sam Mendes’ production of the musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is magically beautiful, a good old-fashioned Broadway musical, with a score and lyrics from tried and true Broadway collaborators: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Most of the first half is taken up with the story of Charlie’s impoverished family, relieved by inserts of a garish TV spectacle showing the winners of the golden tickets.   You really feel for Charlie as he yearns for both chocolate and the golden ticket that will grant him entrance to Willy Wonka’s mysterious factory – and bravely bears the disappointment when it looks as though he never will.  What’s more, the scene in which he writes a letter to Wonka, makes it into a paper dart and throws it out across the audience so that it flies up into the gods is somehow more exciting and affecting than any of the more spectacular tricks that follow.  The four children who get to accompany Charlie on the tour are: the greedy Augustus Gloop  who is Bavarian, the spoilt Veruca Salt defiantly English, the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde Californian and the computer game-obsessed Mike Teavee a product of American suburbia.

The second half is little more than a sequence of “get the brats” as Charlie’s unpleasant companions on the guided tour all meet sticky ends in the sweet factory.  Pretty much all the sets are a scrumptious treat – from a nut-sorting room populated by squirrels to the inventing room complete with emotionally unstable robots. The sets are brought to life by the army of little Oompa-Loompas, whose numbers, choreographed with natty innovation by Peter Darling, are hilariously kooky.  The various calamities are staged with panache, and the special effects involving killer squirrels and the Oompa-Loompas are highly ingenious.

Jonathan Slinger is a splendidly charismatic and disconcerting Willy Wonka, brilliantly combining jokes with a twitchy hint of the psycho, and the child performers are superb.  Slinger, despite his more edgy idiosyncrasies, does bring a real sense of humanity to the character. He’s a man clearly moved by Charlie’s politeness, thoughtfulness and caring, which makes the final bond between the two a little more believable

The biggest star of the show remains designer Mark Thompson’s startling, imaginative sets, that conjure the right Dickensian gloom for the black-and-white scenes set in the eponymous hero’s impoverished home life — where dad is unemployed, the elderly family relatives share beds and electricity to power the television is generated by cycling really hard on a stationary bicycle — but then spring into vivid 3D colour for the scenes set in the factory.

This scrumdiddlyumptious production is perfect for children and adults alike, a completely fabulous sugar coated nostalgia fest.  Go and see it now before it closes