East AngliaMusicalReview

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical – Theatre Royal, Norwich

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Music: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Wittman
Writer: Roald Dahl
Adaptor: David Grieg
Director: James Brining

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory begins its first UK tour following its hit West End and Broadway Productions. The pure imagination of Roald Dahl is brought to life in this travelling production telling the tale of young Charlie Bucket who wins one of five golden tickets, finally gets his grandfather out of bed, and heads beyond the gates to the world of Willy Wonka and his impossible sweets. In a place where nothing is what it seems and no one leaves the way they arrived, however, all is not quite so sweet within the factory.

It is clear that a great deal of consideration has been made concerning the visuals of the show from the moment the curtains open on a greyscale stage littered with discarded junk and a small, colourfully dressed, Charlie (Noah Walton) in the middle of it. Charlie, a budding inventor, is the child of an impoverished family who never lets it falter his hope and optimism. A trait which has the potential to become cloying is instead wonderfully endearing when portrayed by Walton.

The entire first half of the musical is dedicated to the finding of the tickets and the introduction of each of the characters which, at times, make the first act seem to drag somewhat while also managing to not really give enough time to each of the winners to allow them to flesh out their characters and connect with the audience. One of the highlights of these introductions is Ewan Gillies as Jerry the news reporter who is both excited and exasperated by the whole competition in equal measure.

The pacing picks up in the second half when we finally make it through those gates and into Willy Wonka’s factory. At this point we meet Garth Snook as Wonka himself, who proceeds to steal every scene he’s in as he flips on a dime from whimsical and kindly to unsettling and malevolent; you never know what you will get from one moment to the next and it makes for a riveting performance. It is a bit of a shame, then, that the second act is forced to rely so heavily on his performance, as instead of being presented with huge technicolour sets we are instead greeted with a sparse stage and a video projection of the factory. The result of this, instead of giving us opportunities to see more of the factory as was presumably the plan, is that the stage ends up feeling rather bare and the cast exposed.

The choreography (Emily Jane Boyle) does an excellent job of filling that overly bare stage in the second act, flooding the space with unsettling, faceless, Oompa Loompas who materialise to dance in a mechanical syncopation which creates an off-kilter sense of confusion for the audience to mirror that of the winners. This otherworldly sense of the Oompa Loompas is enhanced further by the use of the live orchestra, led by musical director Ellen Campbell which brings the world to life and fills the auditorium.

This is a show which brings to life a story which is equal parts light and dark and gives us a Charlie Bucket we genuinely root for throughout. The casting is strong, and some of the creative moments are inspired. It is a shame that the factory itself doesn’t live up to what the audience holds in their imagination but with the strength of the performances here it is certainly worth finding yourself a golden ticket.

Runs Until: 29 April 2023

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. 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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