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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Birmingham Hippodrome


Pure imagination is all you need for this splendid retelling of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel about Willy Wonka and his magic, if rather dark, chocolate factory.

It’s 52 years since Willy Wonka in the shape of Gene Wilder first stepped from the page of the 1964 novel, bringing Dahl to a wider audience, and although Dahl disowned the film, to many Wilder was, and still is Willy Wonka.

But West End star Gareth Snook gives him more than a run for his money as the eccentric chocolate genius with his fabulously bizarre factory. He has a great voice, the first to sing at Cardiff’s Millenium Theatre on its opening night inidentally– what a pub quiz question that is! – and builds a lovely rapport with the audience with knowing looks and asides. He’s our mate on stage, up for a laugh.

As for the eponymous Charlie, traditionalists might baulk at the idea of Charlie Bucket being a girl on Press night but it hardly changes the story, we still have a child from a poor family, who is kind, honest and accepting her lot without a grumble in sight.

 Jessie-Lou Harvey gave us a Charlie with all that and more, and you couldn’t help but fall for her, happy, sad, and a lovely perforrmance. She has a lovely voice, with a power belying her diminutive size when needed.

The Charlies, incidentally, are two boys and two girls in a rota.


Charlie with Grandpa Joe in the search for the elusive golden ticket

For those who have been off the planet for half a century or so, Wonka has reopened his factory and has fjve golden tickets hidden among his chocolate bars. The five children who find them are invited to tour the factory with a mega prize for one of the lucky ticket holders.

Thus we have Kazmin Borrer as millionaire’s high, high maintenance daughter Veruca Salt (the wart thing has two Cs in case you were wondering.). A lovely performance (we have to say that or she will scream and shout and get daddy to close down the web). She went the way of all bad nuts.

And there is Augustus Gloop played by Robin Simões da Silva, who has two hobbies, eating and, it appears, burping. He ends up being sucked up into the flies where he is no doubt now eating any scenery up there.

Then there is the bubble gum queen, in yer face, full on, Violet Beauregarde, played way over the top by Marisha Morgan, who is outdone by her mother, who makes loud look silent, played by Emily Winter, who is probably glad to stretch her legs after playing Grandma Georgina, and the Bucket palce where she has been in bed for 20 years.

Violet is sort of . . . lets just say, she becomes awfully fruity.  

Mrs Gloop, incidentally, Kate Milner Evans, was Charlie’s other gran, Josephine in the bed quartet, while Christopher Howell, awash with cash as Mr Salt, was awash with duvets as Grandpa George.

Why Charlie’s grandparents had shared the same bed, never leaving it for 20 years, has never been explained, just be careful what you search for if you try to find out about four people in a bed on the internet . . . just saying.

Anyhow, Charlie’s mum, Mrs Bucket, played by Leonie Spilsbury seemed cheerful enough about the arrangement although she has her work cut out as Mrs Teavee, mother of Michael, played, or should we say televisualised by Teddy Hinde.

 Michael speaks in sort of sounds and insults rather than words and sentences. And his life revolves around TV. The advice was not to touch the TV transformer, transporter thingy, but he did, and Mike became his own TV star - a real pocket dynamo.

And joining the final ticket winner Charlie on her visit is Grandpa Joe, played by Michael D’Cruze, who leaves the grandparental bed for the first time in 20 years to join her, donning his bus conductor’s uniform to look smart and tidy.

The cast along with a hard working ensemble, who give us the Oompa-Loompas among others, are a delight, keeping things moving without a pause.

In truth though the first act is . . . well not exactly dull, but then scenes have to be set for those who don’t know the story, and the words in songs were often not that clear. May be it is me, my ears being sort of Wonka age, but others far younger related the same problem of indistinct articulation . . . we followed it all pretty easily though. 


Mum, Charlie and Grandpa Joe with the rest of the grandparents in bed in the Bucket family hovel a roll on roll off wonder of Simon Wainwright's set

But the moment Willy Wonka appears, we are in a different show. The whole thing lifts up several notches and act II is a technical marvel with wonderful props  including a giant squirrel sorting nuts, a magic TV transporter, a giant mixer and all manner of brilliant video projections on walls and floor designed by Simon Wainwright.

To tie in rear wall, side walls and floor as one is no mean feat, while the floating glass elevator floating around the stage with a panoramic view behind and below was a clever piece of modern stagecraft.

The set design and costumes are also impressive with dump, corner shop and Bucket hovel gliding into place seamlessly and with the Hippodrome’s huge stage area making changes seemingly effortless.

Then we have the excellent 11 piece orchestra under musical director Ellen Campbell to give that full sound only real live musicians can give.

The result is a glorious family show for all ages including a delighted  little girl in front of me – she is probably still laughing about the squirrels - my well seasoned theatre-going grandsons enjoyed it immensely, four and a half was their view, and who am I to argue.

The effects are clever and work well but as with all of Dahl’s stores, all you really need is that best special effect of all, pure imagination. The candy man will be turning out his sweet treats to 05-11-23.

Roger Clarke


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