Another of my childhood staple films, another new musical. After the success of Matilda I was pretty excited to see the new West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; sadly I left pretty disappointed.
Firstly, the plot had serious pacing issues. The show begins with a projection depicting how chocolate is made … it went on and on and on. Whereas the film focuses approximately 75% of its length on the chocolate factory itself; the musical has more of a 50:50 split. The majority of act one centres around Charlie’s house, we are introduced to the golden ticket winners via Charlie’s television, then only at the end of act one do we catch a glimpse of Willy Wonka (Douglas Hodge) himself. The second act, although paced better, is predictable, the children are eliminated in clinical succession and the show wrapped up all too quickly.
I appreciate that act one attempts to focus the plot onto Charlie, but this focus is lost in act two, rendering a lot of Charlie’s subtext arbitrary; you don’t end up engaging with him to the extent that you do with say Matilda. Sadly this is the nature of the story and I’m not sure there is much the creators could have done to avoid such a fate. Personally, I would have preferred it if we had arrived at the factory earlier in act one, and had more time spent in the factory, not getting rid of children (such as the elevating bubble scene in the film).
From what I heard, the score was pretty ordinary. We were sat stage right at the front of the stalls where the sound balance was horrific; I would say I managed to catch at most 30% of the lyrical content of the show, even less in the ensemble numbers and when some of the children were singing, which is a shame. Having subsequently listened to the cast recording there is some clever lyrical content. I found a lot of the numbers in act one pointless, ‘If Your Mother Were Here’ in particular, was confusing and didn’t add anything to the plot. We get it, the buckets are poor! It felt like it was thrown in only to give Charlie’s parents something to sing!
I did enjoy the characterization of the 4 other children, their individual songs did well at capturing their faults. Wonka’s numbers were notable highlights, ‘It Must Be Believed to Be Seen’ and ‘Strike That, Reverse It’ in particular. However, at no point did I feel like the score was an improvement on that of the film … a shame.
The set and effects were I suppose impressive … but not impressive enough to make up for the aforementioned issues. The elevator worked on the night we saw it, but it’s lifting mechanism made a great deal of noise (and was relatively noticeable) which sort of spoilt the effect. Augustus Gloop’s ascent from the chocolate lake and a paper aeroplane flying across the audience got some of the biggest wows, but again it was obvious how they were achieved.
I think the sets were too literal, for a film ingrained in the minds of so many why not leave more to the imagination? … that is, after all, a theme of the show.
The Oompa Loompas were done well, and cleverly adapted for a variety of different settings – but what is an Oompa Loompa without the Oompa Loompa song? The audience was yearning for it!
These faults were not to the detriment of the large cast. Douglas Hodge has something about him that oozes star quality. Again this is another show where a 10-year-old’s talent can make you feel wholly inadequate .. the kids were great. Though I didn’t particularly take to Nigel Planer’s portrayal of Grandpa Joe or indeed the portrayals of other grandparents – I might have just been resentful of the amount of focus that was placed on them.
Overall, it was OK, I’m sure plenty of families will enjoy it. The book and score weren’t up to scratch … it was all show and no substance. Sadly not for me, go see Matilda instead!
You can now relive this production with the Original London Cast Recording*!