A stage production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a little like one of Willy Wonka’s chocolate `creations’.
There’s plenty of sugar, it can be dark at times but after the experience there’s a good chance you’ll feel very satisfied.
Playing at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, the production is an adaption of the 2017 Broadway version, which first debuted in London in 2013 and has since undergone several changes. Despite the changes, the story is similar to the Roald Dahl 1964 classic.
Eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Paul Slade Smith), the owner of the world’s greatest chocolate factory, decides to open his factory doors to five lucky children and their parents. To choose who will enter the factory, Wonka hides five golden tickets beneath the wrappers of his famous chocolate bars.
The five winners are bratwurst-loving Augustus Gloop (Jake Fehily); the very spoiled young Russian ballerina Veruca Salt (Karina Russell); the self-styled YouTube, gum chewing celebrity known as the ‘Queen of Pop’ Violet Beauregarde (Monette McKay); over-medicated, aggressive, gamer addict Mike Teavee (Harrison Riley); and the very poor and thoroughly decent Charlie (Edgar Stirling).
Each child is accompanied by an adult. Augustus is joined by his yodelling-loving mother (Octavia Barron Martin); Veruca by her Russian oligarch father (Stephen Anderson); Mike by his alcoholic and controlling mother (Jayde Westaby); and Violet by her father (Madison McKoy), who shares his daughter’s wish for her experiences to go viral on social media. Charlie is joined by his grandfather, Grandpa Joe (Tony Sheldon) who used to work at the factory and hasn’t left his bed in decades.
The show’s first act explains why Wonka opens his factory and highlights the reactions of the children and parents to the news they have a golden ticket. The second half takes place in the chocolate factory. With the exception of Charlie, all winners and their parents have major character flaws and needless to say, none prosper. Indeed, in this production, all but one child come to rather grisly ends.
Another major difference in the production is Charlie lives in Australia with his mother (Lucy Maunder), together with his four grandparents. There’s no mention of his father.
The dialogue has also been updated with numerous references to the power of television, social media and cyber technology.
The Australian setting allows for quite a few local references, brilliantly delivered by Sheldon. Indeed his performance as Grandpa Joe is one of the highlights of the show. His comic timing is perfect.
Ten-year-old Stirling (one of five boys who play Charlie) is very believable as Charlie.
While there has been some criticism in bringing American Smith to Australia to play Wonka (given the talent available in Australia), there’s no doubting his excellent stage presence and singing and dancing skills. Smith’s credits include the original Broadway companies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland and the current Broadway revival of My Fair Lady.
Also attracting some discussion was the decision to cast adults in the role of the `other’ children. However their performances and those of their ‘parents’ are enjoyable to watch.
Some of the biggest cheers on the night came for the Oompa Loompas, brought to life through ingenious puppetry. The Oompa Loompas’ singing and dancing was another highlight of a show which also featured a number of excellently choreographed dance numbers.
While a number of songs have been written specifically for the production, there are also a couple of `old favourites’ including Candy Man and Pure Imagination.
The quality of the new songs together with a lack of depth, especially compared to other Dahl stage shows such as Matilda, have resulted in some criticisms of this production.
However for me and my 12 year old companion, the show’s colour, movement, staging and clever use of visual projections – together with the cast’s enthusiasm – ensured a fun, light-hearted sugary theatrical treat!
*Jenny Burns attended the August 28 performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a guest of the producers.
Visit the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory website for more information on the production and tickets.
- reviews, theatre
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