As hotly anticipated musicals go they don’t really come much bigger than this one. With the huge success of Matilda just down the road at the Cambridge fresh in everyone’s mind it must have been with some trepidation that superstar director Sam Mendes took on this monster project. He needn’t have worried of course, he’s created a show of such delights that even the most cynical amongst us will end up like a kid in a sweet shop!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like all of the Roald Dahl stories has the epic spectacle of an enormous imagination but with a heart and soul that makes you want to treasure the story forever. Dahl shines his light on the grotesque and the poignant, on the funny and the touching and never drops the pace for a moment.
This is a show of two halves. The closest the first act ever gets to the chocolate factory of the title is just to the front door. Meeting all of the children, the four grandparents and eventually Willy Wonka himself takes some time and doesn’t always keep the interest. The drab design of the first act serves to highlight the colour and energy of the Chocolate factory when we get there of course, but it does take its toll after a while. As the children are introduced one by one within a giant TV screen on stage we are given only a glimpse of the colourful treats that may be in store later on.
As we approach the finale of the first act our biggest treat of all awaits us, Willy Wonka himself in the form of the ever talented and supremely charismatic Douglas Hodge. Hodge blends the psychotic and maniacal with a tenderness and childlike energy that is a joy to watch. He bounds around the stage and pops up in the most unexpected of places and always looks like he is having the time of his life.
Once inside the chocolate factory there is wave after deliciously sweet wave of magic, spectacle and complete joy to behold. We race through at a pace watching each of the children meet their gruesome endings, every one of them leaving a little moral tale behind them as they go of course.
Mark Thompson’s exceptional sets and designs leave you agog with every new scene that unfolds. With the help of projection and illusion all of the magic of the book moves onto the stage and never once leaves you wanting more. Even the Oompa-Loompas don’t disappoint.
With the ever rocketing prices of the West End this is at least one show that you will come away from feeling that you have had your money’s worth. This doesn’t make it any easier for families to afford mind you, but those that can will come away from this smiling from ear to ear.