When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate
Factory, it’s the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always
dreamed of. But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as down the sugary
corridors, and amongst the incredible edible delights, the five lucky winners
discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.
Roald Dahl’s deliciously dark tale of young Charlie Bucket and the mysterious
confectioner Willy Wonka comes to life in a brand new West End musical directed
by Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes.
Featuring ingenious stagecraft, the wonder of the captivating, almost 50 year
old, original story is brought to life with music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by
Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, with a book by award-winning playwright and
adaptor David Greig, set and costume designs by Mark Thompson and choreography
by Peter Darling.
Jonathan Slinger (pictured above, photo credit: Helen
Maybanks) plays Willy Wonka in 2015. In a stage career spanning two decades,
Jonathan Slinger has cemented his position amongst the foremost Shakespearean
actors of the age. His extensive appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company
include the title roles in recent productions of Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard II and
Richard III; Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Prospero in The Tempest and Dromio and
Puck in The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream respectively. His
credits at The Globe include The Maids Tragedy and The Winter’s Tale.
Almost two-thirds of the 2014 cast will be staying with the show for another
year in Wonka’s factory, including Myra Sands, Roni Page, Jasna Ivir, Ross
Dawes, Paul J. Medford, Derek Hagen, Kate Graham and Joe Allen, who have all
been with the show since it opened in Spring 2013.
Full cast: Jonathan Slinger, Barry James, Ross Dawes,
Josefina Gabrielle, Jasna Ivir, Paul J. Medford, Lara Denning, Derek Hagen, Roni
Page, Myra Sands, Kraig Thornber, Joe Allen, Meg Astin, Joel Baylis, Andy Brady,
Simon Campbell, Georgia Carling, Andrew Carthy, Collette Coleman, Dan Cooke,
Divine Cresswell, Billy Cullum, Connor Dowling, Kelly Edwards, Gemma Fuller,
Kate Graham, Sam Lathwood, Lucinda Lawrence, Mark Oxtoby, Matthew Rowland,
Rebecca Seale, Steven Serlin, Gregory Sims, Robert Tregoning, Tara Verloop,
Michelle White, Mark Williamson.
BOOSTERZ™ Inflatable Booster Cushions are now available to borrow at this
theatre. Raising a child 10 to 14 cm, this easily inflated - by pump or pure
'puff power' - item can be loaned from ushers at the venue (who will supply it
ready inflated!). For regular theatregoers, they can also be purchased direct from the inventors at
www.boosterz.co.uk, and the more you buy, the greater the discount!
(Seen at the preview on 12th June 2013). Some actors
have now left the cast.
Any stage musical that has to compete with the memories of both a much loved
book and spectacularly colourful musical film is starting at a disadvantage. For
that reason alone, you cannot blame creators David Greig, Marc Shaiman and Scott
Wittman for adding a little invention to their adaptation, or for including
iconic song “Pure Imagination” in an otherwise all-new score.
The monkey would also like to make clear that it saw a preview
a mere two days after the “Great Glass Elevator” effect was introduced into the
show, and that there was clearly work to be done on the show to drag it from the
3.9 star to 4 star plus show the finished item it is sure it will be.
For there is already much to love. A slow-burning opening
(cross those fingers and ditch the cartoon* and dump sequences, producers, your
show will be better for it) is saved by the wonderful Michelle Bishop as a sweet
vendor with a most unique sales technique. Moments later, Charlie arrives home
and we meet his loving family... and the show bursts into a life that charms
through almost until the interval.
Such is the warmth created by a combination of emotional
honesty and inventive gentle comedy that the monkey was rummaging in its pocket
for a donation towards Charlie’s birthday gift – and joined the cheering when he
finally got his ticket.
Punctuating the domestic action with brilliantly staged sequences introducing
the other children, the cheery mixture of fun tunes and inventive characters
(not sure about Mike TeeVee becoming a violent hacker, though) bubble merrily
Suddenly, though, the show hits a snag with what should have
been the climax of act one... “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen” introducing Mr
Wonka himself. Bringing the curtain down on a dull number that should have been
brimming with energy, it was fascinating to discover that the curtain rose again
on “Strike That! Reverse It” – a clear instruction to director Sam Mendes to
move that joyful “meet and greet” sequence to the other side of the break!
Sadly, we come off that inspired lunacy into the second big
letdown of the show. The iconic factory “chocolate room” – everything edible and
with a fabulous chocolate river – just isn’t magical. Sure, theatre is limited
in a way film isn’t, but still...
Luckily, once past that, a few too-grey projections which have to cover scene
changes (the problems of stage adaptations in any fantasy story), and an
inconsistent bunch of Oompa Loompas (have the guts to stick with the puppets,
they work best!) aside, we quickly get back on track.
The young brats are disposed of inventively, a perfect
“Nutcracker Sweet” in particular – though the monkey could have done without a
vicious and unnecessary death (not in the book) and “Pure Imagination” comes
close with some inventive if fairly unoriginal staging.
Oddly, though, the very end ignores the wonderful adoption of
the Buckets by Wonka and Wonka by the Buckets in favour of a weak plot device
linking an “old man at the dump” at the start of Act One with Wonka – and
abandoning Charlie to his own devices. Hopefully something thing tightened
before press night, feels the monkey.
Still, it’s a high quality show and the monkey enjoyed it enough to demand a
cast CD be released. It’s a show for grandparents to take grandchildren of a
mature 8 to 12 to, and for those on a less than Wonka income, the show’s best
seen from the cheap seats upstairs too.
The performances (particularly the children – name checks for Jack Costello and
Ellie Simons as Charlie and Veruca in particular) are strong. Not as smooth,
funny or sophisticated as predecessor at this venue, “Shrek”, but with heart - a very genuine evening.
*Reports in July 2014 suggest that the cartoon is indeed, gone!