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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Jonathan Slinger in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo: Matt Crockett

Exactly two years on from its original West End premiere, whose previews were beset by technical difficulties with a glass elevator that frequently failed to levitate and was still a bit wobbly even on the opening night, the stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now a slick, well-oiled machine.  It is a justifiably popular addition to the West End roster of family spectacles, and has claimed to have broken the West End record for the highest reported weekly gross sales.

Although there are no problems with the elevator. the show itself still takes a while to take off in other senses. It’s very much a show of two halves, with a lot of quite dry scene-setting as our young, poor hero dreams of winning one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets to visit his chocolate factory; since we all know he is going to, there’s barely any jeopardy or tension in the first act, just a lot of padding.

It is also significant that it isn’t until an hour in that Willy Wonka himself makes a proper appearance just before the Act I curtain. Then as he leads the winners of their fabled (and frequently fatal) visit to his factory, the show explodes in a burst of colour and macabre wit as it provides an alternately terrific and terrifying tale of the results of an over-developed sense of entitlement among some children.

Some of those watching it may recognise themselves or their kids. And there’s certainly something seductive about the compellingly strange ringmaster that is Willy Wonka, since it has become a part which has attracted the attentions of three of our finest and most skilled and versatile modern Shakespearean actors in turn. After Douglas Hodge and then Alex Jennings, it is now RSC regular Jonathan Slinger who lends him an insinuating grace and humour, a resonant singing voice, but a faintly sinister mysteriousness.

It’s a performance that turns a slightly old-fashioned show, whose score draws extensively on Lionel Bart and a kind of cod English music hall sounding score, from something ordinary to extraordinary. The rest of the cast don’t match him for definition — there’s more caricature than character for the most part – although inevitably the young actor playing Charlie also threatens to steal the show.

Verdict
A show that provides a sugar-high of enchantment with a bitter pill of more sinister overtones, kept in balance by director Sam Mendes

Production Information

Production
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Venue
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
City
London
Starts
June 25, 2013
Ends
Booking to June 4, 2016
Press night
June 25, 2015
Authors
Roald Dahl (novel), David Greig (book)
Music
Marc Shaiman, Nicholas Skilbeck (musical supervision), Doug Besterman (orchestrations)
Lyrics
Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Director
Sam Mendes
Musical director
Toby Higgins
Choreographer
Peter Darling
Design
Mark Thompson, Jon Driscoll (video/projection design), Jamie Harrison (puppet/illusion)
Set
Mark Thompson
Lighting
Paul Pyant
Sound
Paul Arditti
Costume
Mark Thompson
Technical
Chris Hesketh (production stage manager), Wyn Williams (company manager)
Cast includes
Jonathan Slinger, Barry James, Ross Dawes, Josefina Gabrielle, Jasna Ivir, Paul J Medford, Lara Denning, Derek Hagen, Roni Page, Myra Sands, Kraig Thornber
Producer
Warner Bros Theatre Ventures, Langley Park Productions, Neal Street Productions
Running time
2hrs 30mins