This review was written by site contributor Michael Mander on June 27, 2013. Many thanks to the show producers for providing Michael with press tickets!
A Dahl-Lightful Performance!
Sam Mendes, BAFTA winning director of Skyfall, has put together a performance on a new level of excellent: a creation Wonka himself would admire. A show so fantastic and wonderful, I am beginning to wonder if anything will ever top it.
As the iron gates of the Wonka Factory were swung open, it was as if Dahl’s traditional tale had come to life in an unimaginable way! The sets were nothing short of magical, moving around the stage as if watching a dream, detailed and realistic like a scene from a movie, and using advanced projections, animatronics and puppetry to fulfil every possible, making everything visually pleasing. The Bucket Household, in the opening scenes, makes an instant impression on the viewer Ð as Grandpa Joe’s stories come to life before the audiences’ eyes. And as the breaking news comes through of the golden ticket winners, one by one, the viewer gets a unique view of the television screen and what is happening on it. Extraordinary, to say the least.
And then we reach the factory, a cartoon-like, surreal environment with fast-paced set changes utilizing every possible manor of technology. I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of a Great Glass Elevator but it was covered well and the non-critical viewer would never notice.
You’ll be surprised at what the show decides to include, the impossible becomes possible and happens right in front of your eyes! From squirrels to mini-Mike Teavees, the set director, Mark Thompson, has done an incredible job of bringing the ideas of Sam Mendes to life, culminating in the perfect musical representation of the book.
And what a Wonka! Quirky and absurd, Douglas Hodge (donning the top hat and abstract purple suit of Quentin Blake’s Wonka) convinces me that he is a chocolatier who is on the verge of loosing his marbles! With small mannerisms that make the character believable, but a nuttiness that makes him unique, Hodge is the perfect candidate for a perfect Wonka. I would say his Wonka is based somewhat upon Gene Wilder in the first film adaptation of the book Ð so perhaps Hodge needs to reread the original Dahl story to really take in all the dimensions of Wonka’s character.
My biggest concern before entering the theatre was, of course, the music. It was quite a task, to make Dahl’s words into lovable songs: but it has been successfully done by Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The songs are rather catchy (but not annoyingly so) and mostly up-beat and jolly. I particularly loved all of Violet’s songs: very fun and upbeat! The songs with a more serious tone, such as “Simply Second Nature” are deep and provoking, almost poetic. And, of course, when the first chords of the classic “Pure Imagination” from the original Chocolate Factory film were played, there was a sense of familiarity within the audience. Beautifully performed by the orchestra and performers.
The other headlining actor in this performance was Nigel Planer, filling the boots of Grandpa Joe. He was funny, heart-warming and a great performance. Credit is certainly due for this experienced actor, Grandpa Joe being such a difficult part to master.
But, by far the stand-out performers were the children. Charlie Bucket: a small boy with incredible stage presence and a powerful voice. He stayed so true to the character in the book, putting across a warm and heartfelt performance as the deprived and grateful boy. Augustus Gloop was greedy yet lovable, with a funny German accent. His mother was a hilarious character whom the entire audience adored. Meanwhile, Violet Beauregarde impressed me in every sense. The young actress had a flair to performing and totally nailed every line and number. Mike Teavee’s character is a difficult one to pull-off but the young actor did a brilliant job. As well as being able to manoeuvre himself with the complex projections his character utilized, he also was an impressive dancer. And Veruca Salt, engaged in many humorous dialogues with her father and Mr Wonka, was played by an incredibly talented actress with an ability to make a room full of theatre go-ers a little bit disgusted by her bratish-ness.
While not entirely true to the book, Dahl fans will love this performance: a concoction of Dahl’s charm and delight that brings each page to life in an unbelievable dream-like way. 5 stars.