When a purple carpet is laid out in front of the theatre, you know attention to detail has been paid. Either that, or the red carpet was out of stock - and I am delighted to say it was the former rather than the latter in this re-telling of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory based at the New Wimbledon, one of the few theatres in London where every seat is a good one.
A firm nod should be given to the Technical Stage Team (Andy Pye) and Sound (Reece Lyon) and Video (Abigayle Holt) who understood the assignment. The staging is impressive. The first half opens with what looks like a junkyard but when opened up reveals itself to be an almost Pandora's Box type of corner newsagent. Charlie (played tonight by Amelia Minto) bought a fresh energy to the role and her interactions with her Grandparents, combined with the use of sign language was a 'sweet' treat to see - raising awareness in all forms.
The second half, for me, is where the magic appeared. To quote another well-known musical, I was in the room where it happened and by Jove, when Gareth Snook appeared as Willy, ready to give a tour of the chocolate factory, I held my breath in wonder. The graphics were brilliant and dancing with light - the images of acid house-coloured trees combined with plants bearing chocolate bars and sweets displayed on the floor of the stage and the back screen. When Mr Wonka threw a handful of bonbons to the floor they exploded theatrically, into a million pieces.
True to the story some of the ticket holders were picked off for their unpleasantness. Wonka, in typical pantomime fashion, served up treats for the adults with generous helpings of cynicism, mockery and sarcasm that went over the heads of the children, adding to the allure of making this a firm family favourite show. Standout scenes for me included: Violet being bounced around a baseball court, Mike TeeVee being transported from a cubicle, channel hopping on the TV from programme to programme with his mother despairing that he won't ever be the same. 'No one is ever the same after being on TV' Wonka casually comments and
Augustus Gloop and the river of chocolate that drooled all over the stage, the very scent of cocoa beans pervading the air.
What could have been opened up was the interaction between the strangely garbed Oompa Loompas and Willy, the song Pure Imagination whilst sung well could have had a dollop of emotion; it was slightly menacing albeit enticing. However, I am sure these are teething issues and once finessed this will be a show that would be welcome back in the West End. In the interim, the graphics/staging/gender neutrality casting more than make up for it.
I'd like to have another tour of the Factory, please!
The show touring the UK. Dates and tickets: here.
Review: Kay Johal Photos: Johan Persson