Ian Waller enjoys a magical family night out to enjoy a new version of this Roald Dahl classic
We were so excited about this one! An absolute classic of a children’s tale by one of the master story writers brought to the stage of best theatre in town. And the wonderful news is that it was magical, fun, clever and just a great family night out!
For us, a trip to the Bristol Hippodrome generally starts with a visit to the Rendezvous fish and chip shop just around the corner from the theatre, and over our meals we were trying to work out how Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – tasting rooms, chocolate rivers, the great glass elevators and all – could possibly be transferred to the stage… There was no need to worry – this is a super-clever production that conjures the story with a cracking mix of old school stagecraft and hi-tech wizardry.
Right from the start, the stage sets are superb. We meet Charlie, played with such energy, charm and skill by Isaac Sugden, scouring the rubbish dump for treasures to bring home to his beloved grandparents. And there’s so much to find – a clock that doesn’t work (“Just perfect for letting me know what time it isn’t!”), a single woolley glove and a book with missing pages that will stop a spring on the double bed that his grandparents all share, from sticking out!
Of course, the real adventure starts with the announcement that master chocolate maker Willy Wonka has placed five golden tickets in his bars of chocolate, and the finders of prizes will win a visit to his magical chocolate factory.
The rest is a well-loved story perfectly crafted for the stage with so many high points. Among the highest of these is young Isaac. He brings the stage to life with his every entry and you can just feel the love he has for his hard working mum and doting grandparents. Hugely impressive too is that when he sings you can hear every word – a trait not always evident in stage musicals.
Around him, the grandparents are such fun, while his mum (Leonie Spilsbury), straining to look after them all on a diet of cabbage soup while working in the evenings at the laundrette, is an absolute star. In fact, talk about hard work, she even doubles up at Mrs Teavee, the long suffering mum of Mike Teavee, one of the less deserving of the golden ticket winners.
The slightly odd bit here was mum’s occasional use of sign language when no other family member lives with hearing challenges, and it was way too sporadic to benefit members of the audience.
While the performances are top drawer, a few of the songs do lack that pazz-zazz that makes them instantly memorable, while perhaps also going on a little too long. What’s more, while it’s great to build the tension, I couldn’t help but feel we had to wait too long to see inside Wonka’s world…
Still, there’s still so much to enjoy, particularly with the arrival of Mr Wonka – Gareth Snook. Snook’s is such a clever portrayal – a charming, colourful, magical extrovert, but with more than of sinister hint of something more. While his opening songs are so crammed full of words it makes it a challenge to make out what he’s saying, as the performance goes on, so the charisma shines.
Of course, the fun really starts when Charlie, his Grandpa Joe – just wonderfully played by Michael D’Cruze – and the cast of worldwide enfant terrible that make up the other golden ticket winners, explore the factory and each meet their so well-deserved fates. Along the way there’s the oompa loompas, given a modern age makeover as scary robotic servants fresh from a 1970s Doctor Who set, giant squirrels checking to see if the nuts – and children – are good or bad, and the best set of ons-stage special effects that give the whole production a thoroughly modern new look.
The result is entrancing – as the production goes on, so it gets better and better, with so much staying honest to the book and just a few subtle tweaks to add extra excitement.
So go, book your golden tickets now and look forward to an evening of pure imagination from the master storyteller, Roald Dahl, and a top class cast too!
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until 8 October. For more details and to book tickets, go to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory-the-musical/bristol-hippodrome/