Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman

Writer: Roald Dahl

Adaptor: David Grieg

Director: James Brining

Stories do not come much bigger than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. This rags-to-riches tale speaks to us all on some level, hence the many incarnations the story has enjoyed. Roald Dahl’s iconic book has carved itself a place in our collective consciousness as a rite of passage for every child to experience.

The story follows Charlie (at this performance, Noah Walton), the only child of the impoverished Bucket family. Charlie fantasises of a life free from poverty, where his family are comfortable, and he is free to make his inventions without having to force down another bowl of cabbage soup.

Opening in greyscale, the set is full of discarded items, junk, and broken furniture which Charlie seeks out to repurpose as new treasure. Charlie is tiny compared to the huge mountain of junk and pops as the only spec of colour in this grey-washed world. A budding inventor, his creative talent bubbles through his opening number Almost Nearly Perfect and it’s abundantly clear to all that if anyone deserves the opportunity to meet Mr Wonka on a tour of his factory that this is the child.He is the physical embodiment of ‘hope’ and Walton plays him to perfection. His vocal tone is bright and sweet, coupled with the unfailing optimism brimming from his face, it is difficult not to be totally endeared by him. By chance, Charlie finds a golden ticket which allows him to visit the enchanting factory of the mysterious chocolatier. But is this the opportunity that Charlie has been waiting for?

This musical is a tale of two halves, the first act deals with the excited frenzy that is the hunt for the golden tickets. As each winner is found, we are faced with an ever more grotesque lineup of spoiled and greedy children, a stark contrast to the sweet presentation of Charlie Bucket.

The show dawdles a little in terms of pacing in the first act, the story unfolds slowly but is peppered with some iconic moments as the narcissistic brats make their entrance. However, their solo songs have been snipped to present them as a snappy TV vox pop. This shortening of the solo numbers, in particular, More of him to love makes the first act feel longer than it is. This is really one of the only up-tempo comedy numbers and editing it in this way really limits Robin Simoes Da Silva in his ability to connect with the audience. That being said he does a fantastic job with the material he has.

The pace of the show picks up in the second act as we enter the chocolate factory. Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka is undoubtedly a scene thief. He can never quite be trusted, as he flits instantaneously between whimsical enchantment and downright sadism.His entrance in It must be believed to be seen is a sucker punch. He enraptures the crowd with his velvety vocal tone and hypnotic prowling mannerisms.

The success of the show is largely pinned upon his delivery particularly as, from the point at which he enters, Simon Higlett’s set all but disappears leaving only Simon Wainright’s video projections apart from the odd prop or machine. Whilst this is spectacular in the opening bars of Pure Imagination, it very quickly loses dimension and flattens. It is a shame that a mix of hard set and projection appears not to have been considered for this scene which comes across as a rehearsal. Snook, competent and engaging though he is does at times feel very exposed in the sparsely populated stage. However, in the ensemble tracks, he is commanding and rousing as the leader of the Oompa Loompas.

Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography is fantastic, transitions are sharp, and movement is continuous ensuring that the Oompa Loompas especially appear otherworldly as they materialise and dominate the performance space. Higlett’s design for the Oompa Loompas is sinister, a cross between the Wheelers from Return to Oz and the Cybermen of Dr Who. Their mechanical syncopation, coupled with their alien appearance sets them apart from their cute presentation in the movie versions. The extreme height differences between the ensemble cast make the stage, during the dance numbers appear flooded with bodies, this non-uniform placement of the ensemble leaves the audience off-kilter and adds to the fearsome atmosphere that is created after each accident.

While there are some moments in the first act that have pacing issues, this is a solid piece of storytelling. Many of the Iconic songs from the 1971 film are included along the way, alongside Marc Shaiman’s new compositions. Are there limitations in staging a show like this? Absolutely! But James Brinning’s production recognises it and uses them to create moments of comedy that leave the children of the audience roaring with laughter. The exit of Mike Teevee as a six-inch action figure was of particular amusement. The slow burn of the first act does nothing to detract from the unadulterated joy of the second. An excellent family show that will enchant young and old alike!

Grab your golden ticket, enter the factory, and escape to a world of pure imagination! Best availability can be found in the final week of the run at Milton Keynes.

Runs Until 5 March 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A truly Fantabulous Family show!

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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