Sweets are miraculous inventions. With a little sugar and a dash of imagination, you can make something magical. It’s the sort of magic that suffuses Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a young boy whose life changes when he wins a Golden Ticket to meet the Candy Man himself: eccentric and elusive chocolatier Willy Wonka.
Originally made into the classic 1971 movie-musical starring Gene Wilder, the Leeds Playhouse Production now embarks on a grand UK Tour after successful stints on Broadway and the West End. Directed by James Brining and adapted by David Greig, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a feast for all the senses! Classic tunes ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘The Candy Man Can’ sit along sumptuous new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the duo behind the musical Hairspray, with orchestrations by David Shrubsole. It now comes to Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, which seems fitting given that it’s the hometown of author Roald Dahl.
The role of Charlie is shared by four actors (two boys and two girls) and was played on the press night by Isaac Sugden. He brings a real warmth to the role, caring and compassionate, and it’s a great choice to turn Charlie into an inventor-type who repurposes lost and broken things. His scenes with the wonderful Michael D’Cruze as Grandpa Joe are some of the show’s best, as are the scenes in the Bucket household. Christopher Howell, Kate Milner Evans, Emily Winter and Leonie Spilsbury beautifully portray the rest of the loving Bucket clan, and also double up as the beleaguered parents of the other four Golden Ticket holders, who are just as delectably loathsome as their sprogs.
And boy do they get their just desserts! Marisha Morgan is on top form as Violet Beauregard a gum-popping poseur rebranded as a sort of obnoxious TikTok star. Robin Simões da Silva as Augustus Gloop, Teddy Hinde as Mike Teavee, and Emma Robotham Hunt as Veruca Salt (stepping in for Kazmin Borrer) bring real panache to their roles, while Ewan Gillies and Lucy Hutchison are delicious as dynamic TV duo Jerry and Cherry Sundae. Whenever each ‘bad egg’ is hoisted by their own petard, you know the Oompa Loompas are on their way for a musical ‘I told you so’ – here, they are reimagined as dancing automatons, lending a steampunk quality to Wonka’s factory that gives it a Metropolis–esque edginess (and nimbly sidesteps the characters’ problematic origins). It’s their scenes that best showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s zesty choreo and Simon Higlett’s costumes, especially in the standout set piece ‘You Got Whatcha Want’.
And you’ll really get what you want with this show’s portrayal of Willy Wonka, played by the sublime Gareth Snook, who really makes the character his own. He’s got more layers than a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight: at turns sinister, sarcastic, and sweeter than an Everlasting Gobstopper. Plus, his rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’ was truly scrumptious!
The show is a candy-coated fantasy, featuring eye-popping visual effects and illusions courtesy of Simon Wainwright and Chris Fisher. The way they convey the factory’s myriad rooms, from the chocolate river to the fear tunnel, brings real spectacle to the stage. Choc-a-block with gorgeous sets, toe-tapping songs, and more sweetie puns than you can shake a (candy) stick at, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is pure confection perfection!
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 3 – 20 May 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.
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