Charlie and the Underwhelming Chocolate Factory – ONE OF THE FIRST EVER REVIEWS!!

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Last night I was part of the first ever public audience for the new musical ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘.  Based on the Roald Dahl classic which has spawned two films (depending what camp either one’s great the other’s not or both are great or whatever…) the musical joins Dahl’s other classic ‘Matilda‘ which has taken the theatre world by storm.  Whether or not the new Sam Mendes’ directed musical will be as bigger hit I’m really not too sure as I left the theatre last night deflated (unlike Violet) and underwhelmed by the whole thing.

A great short film opens the show, with illustrations of a Quentin Blake style we find out how chocolate is made.  The film packed with humour and some subtle nods to Dahl’s style would, you’d hope, set the pace for the show but sadly once the screen goes up we’re met with a dark, dreary set for much of the first half of the show.  If there’s anything I’ve learnt through theatre design is that if you’re poor than you live in grey or black and white with very little colour.  Because of this, the only colour in the first half of what should be a huge spectacular musical comes when each of the tickets are found.  That’s not to say the set isn’t great, the Buckets’ house is full of exciting little things – it’s just a shame it’s too dark to see them! And the bed – well it’s pretty cool – even if watching stage managers rushing on to push it all back together does distract you from what should be one of more heart wrenching numbers.

The songs aren’t memorable, looking over the list of musical numbers there’s only two of of the 11 in the first half  that I remember and that’s down to the staging more than the song itself.  Whenever the golden ticket winners are announced colour invades a small part of the stage and these numbers, especially Augustus Gloop’s number are the highlights of the first half.

The second half of the show is set in the factory itself.  Sadly the factory is lifeless and looks too much like a theatre set.  The chocolate room (the one in the movies which looks like a big field and gushing river) is small, floor based, nothing on the sides and a bit of wavy plastic for a waterfall.  The river? A tiny circle of a pond with plastic bubbles.  I was expecting so much more – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane I’m sure is capable of hosting much more spectacular sets.  All the other rooms visited in the factory all seem to be lacking the extravagance expected – however the TV room was probably the best and the projections are sublime by the way.  But don’t get me started on the ‘Great Glass Elevator’….

And then there’s the Oompa-Loompas… undecided is my key word here.  I can’t slate them but I can’t praise the direction they’ve been taken in.  It’s nothing against the performers or performances but more design.  Costumes that look like they’ve come from a panto (for example a costume for one actor consists of an Oompa-Loompa on top of another) and no real chain of thought for any uniformity for them they lack the strangeness and mysteriousness you get from the book..

My biggest worry however, and this really is a worry, is that we are led to believe the Willy Wonka is a murderer.  Really.  In the book and films the missing children go home – in their new states, but they go home.  In the musical we know the Mike goes home, but the rest – well we’re led to believe that Violet explodes, that Augustus has gone into the sweets and the Veruca and her dad are incinerated.  No mention of them surviving these perils and I find that quite concerning.  I’m sure Dahl, no matter how deliciously dark his writing is at times, would want Wonka to come across as a child murderer.

The performances are all fantastic – the kids are confident and full of character and the Nigel Planer’s Grandpa Joe full of comedy.  Douglas Hodge’s Wonka however might need a few adjustments but on the whole is good. It is a good show, and I’m sure the version I saw last night will  go through changes as the previews continue.  It will probably be a hit but whether or not it will be a classic I’m not so sure.  I wish I could say the show is better than good, but on this occasion I find it difficult to.  With changes that a show goes through in previews I hope it improves and flourishes – it doesn’t need to to suceed but will do to become a classic.

3 stars

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London.

Previews till 24th June. Opening 25th June.  Booking until 30th November 2013

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14 thoughts on “Charlie and the Underwhelming Chocolate Factory – ONE OF THE FIRST EVER REVIEWS!!

  1. Drew Pickles says:

    Why do you say it seems Violet explodes? What exactly happens for her blueberry scene?

    • *SPOILER ALERT*

      She inflates slightly, disappears, reappears as a disco ball which then vanishes. Few moments later you hear a bang and have some purple confetti with her dad saying she’s exploded.

      • Drew Pickles says:

        Oh wow! Thanks for the prompt response. Does she actually get rolled around? And how big did she get?

  2. Sadly she doesn’t get that big. Her tracksuit inflates a bit but not to the point she can be rolled around.

    • Drew Pickles says:

      I’m guessing the “disco ball” doesn’t have the actress in it. Ball probably isn’t shown in full either or rolled.

      • She does go into the ball. Basically part of the set is a big vat in which the ball comes out if. The actress runs around while inflating and goes behind the vat – assume she thens gets her face quickly painted and gets into the disco ball that gets hoisted up out of the vat. Difficult to explain really so sorry if it sounds a bit confusing.

  3. Drew Pickles says:

    It makes sense. After she inflates there’s a giant ball behind the set. She “grows” and gets taller and rounder as her head is plopped on top. At least that’s what I imagined. Thank you !

    • Sadly not like that.
      I guess there’s a door at the back of the vat, she goes into it and then the ball which then gets lifted out. She doesn’t get ‘bigger’ per say, just lifted

  4. Drew Pickles says:

    Got it! Final question. Basically a ball resembling the Violet from the first movie I’m guessing? Wondering because I’m directing this also

  5. In this new version Violet is the daughter of a Hollywood star and is wearing a sparkly tracksuit so its a little bit like that but not so 70s!

  6. Drew Pickles says:

    Oh! That’s so clever! Wow so basically the sparkly rounded tracksuit blueberry Violet ends up resembling a giant blue disco ball. Given she’s the daughter of a star and everything ironic. She’s hoisted up like a disco ball til she reaches the top then explodes confetti all over the audience. Genius. Leave it to Sam Mendes.

    Do her actual hands and feet stick out of the ball along with her head? Does she spin? And where are her hands, head, and feet relative to the audience?

  7. Drew Pickles says:

    Blows up how morbid haha. So I’m guessing she’s five feet round. Does she flap her hands or say anything as a ball? How long is she in both stages of inflation?

    And btw nice review. Such a counter to all the good reviews I’ve read. Nice to see a more down to earth opinion.

  8. Not a massively long time. To be honest all these bits seem a bit rushed in the show – there’s a lot to fit in though so understandable.
    And thanks 🙂

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