Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice
1/6
© Johan Persson

Alex Jennings (Willy Wonka) and Oliver Finnegan (Charlie)

2/6
© Johan Persson
3/6
© Johan Persson
4/6
© Johan Persson

Charlie (Jake Poolman) and the Bucket Family

5/6
© Johan Persson

Charlie (Jake Poolman) and the Bucket Family

6/6
© Johan Persson

Charlie (Oliver Finnegan) and the Bucket Family

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Aldwych Until Saturday June 4 2016
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Jonathan Slinger replaces Alex Jennings as Willy Wonka from May 4 2015.

‘Skyfall’ director Sam Mendes’s huge new Warner Brothers musical confirms it: the hottest property in the West End right now is a grouchy, dead half-Norwegian, who loathed show-offs and spent most of his working life hiding out in a shed at the bottom of his garden.

Roald Dahl probably wouldn’t have liked the whiz-popping rave that Mendes has created from his addictive kids’ book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – because he felt it was Charlie’s story, and any adaptation inevitably becomes the Willy Wonka show. But what a show this is: a deliciously twisted anti-talent contest in which young Charlie finds a golden ticket and enters the factory of mysterious confectioner, Wonka, to battle four revoltingly spoiled brats for a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.

Thanks to David Greig’s wicked script and preposterously talented child leads, Charlie’s rivals are updated brilliantly for our look-at-me generation: gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde now comes complete with rap and entourage. But, unlike the RSC kid-focused hit ‘Matilda’, our young hero fades into the background and it’s a relief when all the scenes showing what a nice lad he is are out of the way.

Designer Mark Thompson has raised the bar on what kind of world it's possible to create on a stage, given colossal ingenuity (and a multimillion pound budget). And real fun starts when the giant gates of Wonka’s factory open, revealing gadgets, candy-bright edible landscapes and imminent danger of death by chocolate.

In a masterstroke, Mendes has turned the book’s biggest problem into the show’s biggest stars. The Oompa Loompas are Wonka’s indentured army of midget labourers, who basically torture irksome children through the medium of confectionery then make a song and dance about it. Here they are the maddest, oddest, most euphoric chorus I’ve ever seen. With the help of furry two-in-one kigus and mini-me puppets, the full-sized actors become frantic homunculi, tapdancing, cantering round on the backs of squirrels and cavorting like clubbers on a 72-hour bender.

As Wonka, Douglas Hodge – a surprisingly straight choice – channels Rex Harrison as the charismatic conductor for their nutty orchestra, popping up everywhere from the pit to the posh seats.

The point of Dahl’s story is that the show-offs come to sticky ends, which are staged spectacularly. But Wonka’s the biggest boaster of the lot, and, unlike Tim Burton’s film, we don’t get a backstory to make sense of him.

The other ‘meh’ is the music. ‘Hairspray’ team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have written sugar-rush genre pastiches, that give an instant high. But ‘Pure Imagination’ – the one song lifted from the 1971 film – is the only melody that hangs around in your head, like a strange ghost from a different time.

Mendes’s show just fails to reach the core of Dahl's everlasting gobstopper of a story. But this is a bumper box of a family entertainment, with a golden wrapper and plenty of whipple-scrumptious surprises.

Venue name: Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Contact:
Address: Catherine St
London
WC2B 5JF
Transport: Tube: Covent Gdn
Event website: http://www.charlieandthechocolatefactory.com

Average User Rating

3.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:16
  • 4 star:11
  • 3 star:5
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:3
LiveReviews|38
9 people listening
Tom W
moderator

Great family entertainment; some of the stage effects are particularly impressive. In hindsight i'd have booked the matinee as it ran quite late for my 10 year old daughter on a school night.

ARCHNA P

Amazing Show

Took 6 very excited children who were enthralled and amazed.

Beautiful theatre with lovely architecture which certainly added to the tone of the evening, although a little more leg room would have been appreciated.

All the actors were amazing and great hospitality too.

Great evening -  highly recommended.

Marianna B. F

Amazing musical that combines great acting with beautiful  audio-visual effects. The production was fantastic, the band top-notch. The theatre is also very beautiful (oldest working play house in the world). As the show was not fully booked, just before the show a nice gentlemen offer my husband and I to be upgraded for a better seat. We asked for a seat with more leg-space (my husband is really tall). We were taken to one of the boxes on the theatre. That was so nice!

Abbi D

Really great show, the set is what really gave it the wow factor. The child actors were amazing too and the whole thing was enjoyable for kids and adults.

Felicity James

I actually rather liked the songs, though Pure Imagination is clearly heads above the rest. But I've been singing Must Be Believed To Be Seen all week. The child stars are fantastic, and the lyrics/conversation are very funny. And the touches of magic are absolutely perfect. I love that the fate of the children is also not sugar coated (unlike the films, when they are miraculously ok). I like a darker, slightly on edge Wonka. Much more Dahl.

ceri.bird

This show was fantastic. The perfomers were so professional the singing was amazing and the stage effects were brilliant. A must to to see show.

Chris

Good performances, great sets but lacks the songs you want from the film and the songs written for it an weak and forgettable. A musical with poor music is rather a waste of stage. Go see Matlida instead.

Alli

Such a great show! The set was absolutely amazing and the children's performances were brilliant too. The whole show was very entertaining and I would recommend for children and adults.

Jenni Evans

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was amazing one of the best new musicals I have seen for a while. The sets and costumes were awesome. Some fantastic performances from the children that really made me laugh. The sighs were catchy - me and my nephew have been humming them to ourselves ever since. It defiantly has all the elements you are looking for when comparing the film without being an exact copy.

Amaury

Simply awesome, fantastically surprising, at any levels : actors' performs, stage, musicians and scenario ! We had smiled all the night, even after the music hall, and I recommend it to everyone, from children to elderly people ! Enjoy !

Heather Parker

A dark scrumdiddlyumptious delight. From beginning to end the show deliverer end at every turn. Whilst the songs are instantly forgettable, the sets certainly weren't. Much praised has been heaped on them and the technology used and rightly so. The cast were note perfect and I really hadn't expected to laugh quite as much as I diid. The ending is magical. Children will be enthral led by it all,. It really is an experience you shouldn't miss.

Amber Brouns

This is a truly amazing musical! The music is fun and the vocals are flawless, the decors are mindblowing and the special effects are true jaw-droppers! This is a musical that you have to see, whether you are an adult or a child. I had a great time!

lior

i was on the 26th dec. the design was the best thing in the show. great story but in this musical all was slowly and unhappy'. not good songs and no develop in stag/. poor charliy

Jules

I went to London on the 20th Dec to see Charlie and the chocolate factory. My honest opinion was the staging was amazing but there was only 1 original song. I missed the original songs!! Charlie had a paper round in the original, he didn't work on a dump. We did spot Sarah Cox their, I wonder what her thoughts were. I would give it 7/10

Amy M

"Choc full of fun!" was the claim on the posters and I certainly felt like a big kid right from the moment I entered the theatre. Having watched a recent C4 documentary on the show, myself and another self confessed 'techy' (though he actually knows what he's talking about...) just had to go and check this show out, so much show that we even purchased restricted view tickets. I have loved this book/film/concept ever since I was little and the musical certainly did not disappoint. Whilst some of the classic moments in the film don't quite live up to the original, the clever twists, fantasmagorical use of tech and talented cast succeed in absorbing you into the chocolate filed world of magic and song. I don't suspect that this show will be up there amongst the great classics of the musical world, but if you have kids, or just want a trip down memory lane then a visit to Drury Lane is definitely worth it. I challenge you to count the ways in which they fool you into thinking that the oompalumpas are real sized - it must be believed to be seen!

Erin Bolton

This is going to sound really cheesy - this show was magical. The great glass elevator was a splendid spectacular showpiece. Tiny-weeny Charlie Bucket was astonishing; he looked so vulnerable yet performed like a pro. Better than the film with the stupid golden goose - we need squirrels to get rid of the bad nuts. They were magnificent squirrels. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

George A

This show must definitely must be seen to be believed how good it actually is.. The show has everything, amazing songs, and the set is mind blowing.. I really want to see it again, and hopefully will in the coming months.. Another hit like Matilda!!!!

Emma bolt

I have seen a fair few musicals and was extremely excited at the prospect of going to see one of my favourite childhood films on the big stage,however I was feeling a tad deflate Once I was out of the theatre I felt very uncomfortable in places an felt the focus on how poor the buckets were was overwhelming I almost felt like I was watching a bbc children in need appeal I didn't enjoy the songs as I felt they lacked punch , with the noticeable absence of the hugely recognisable Oompa Loompa song and golden ticket it didn't give me the feel good feeling that I was expecting. That being said our Charlie was fantastic for a 9 year old boy he held the stage and made Charlie his. Also hats off to the set designers as the set and effects were amazing.

Matilde

One of the best recent musicals i have seen. Amazing talented young artisits. All the effects were incredible and well put together. I had to go and buy some chocolate In the interval because of the effect it had on me!!! Would definetely reccomend it, especially if you want to take your family on a delicious adventure.

Rose

Great musical, however due to it not being based on the film version of the story I was slightly disappointed by the lack of umpa lumpa involvement and songs. Aside from the the singing and backdrops were great, and the way they introduced the children who won the tickets was very entertaining!

Edward Franklin

I spent most of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' wondering why Sam Mendes agreed to direct it. One can only conclude that he was on board before the score was available to him, because one listen would surely be enough to tell you that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman lack a fundamental sympathy with the Dahlian sensibility that is so essential to any adaptation of his work. It's not that the score is bad. Though there's nothing here to rival the songwriting team's work on 'Hairspray' or the television series 'Smash', there are some tuneful numbers and a handful of smart lyrics that might work in a different show. But not this show; not Dahl. It's too relentlessly optimistic, too mainstream, and Mendes' doesn't do a lot to help by simply unveiling gargantuan set after gargantuan set with little in the way of genuine ingenuity. Perhaps underpinning all of this is the simple fact that 'Charlie...' was always going to be a bugger to adapt. It feels harsh to blame librettist David Greig for the ever-increasing sense of boredom given that essentially he's just being faithful - one by one, kids find golden tickets, then we move into the factory and one by one, kids make mistakes that get them into all kinds of sticky trouble. In literary form, with Dahl's fantastical descriptions, it doesn't feel dull; onstage, there's little to be done to hide the repetitive mechanics of the structure. Among the cast, Douglas Hodge does a decent job at fleshing out Wonka, hinting at the darkness that lurks behind the gleaming eyes of the chocolate magician, whilst Nigel Planer is all geriatric charm. In the supporting role of Mr. Salt, Clive Carter puts in a particularly strong turn, and his number 'When Veruca Says' is probably the wittiest of the bunch. But they can do little to disguise the fact that Mendes and designed Mark Thompson have essentially turned to spectacle to attempt to cover up the weakness of the material they're working with. At a matinee performance full of kids, the biggest gasp of surprise and wonder came when Charlie opened his Wonka bar to discover a golden ticket, and one can't help but think that - unknowingly - these hundreds of pre-teens understood what a team of professionals couldn't - that sometimes magic requires a grandiosity of scale far less than it does a knack for storytelling.

Line Bech

It should be noted that first of all my friend and I sat in seats with restricted viewing. But despite of that I enjoyed the show immensely. I was blown away by the child actors especially - they were just outstanding! I thought the first act was a bit long - mostly because I was really looking forward to seeing the Chocolate Factory sets I think, but still. I did however love the grandparents' number VERY much and thought the Buckett's shack was a beautiful set. I also loved the introductions of the Golden Ticket winners - they're just all around hilarious. The second act was great! The sets were truly fantastic and the Oompa Loompa numbers were all TOTALLY AWESOME. I cried during Pure Imagination, so yeah. The fact that we had restricted seating did take some of it off, I'd say and I think I would have been more engaged in the show if I had a seat where I could see the actors more. I couldn't see their facial expression most of the time. I wouldn't recognize the man playing Willy Wonka if I saw him on the street. But that's not really a criticism, because I chose my own seats, but just like advice so you know what you're getting if you go for the cheapest tickets. The show was fantastic overall I think. You truly got the feeling that these were some talented people who had come together all around - cast, crew, orchestra, everything. My favourite parts were Pure Imagination, the child actors and the sets.

Craig Groves

Knowing that this show was going to be a hot I assured myself that purchasing tickets when I arrive in London would be a longshot so I booked way in advance at a costly price, with weeks of excitement setting close and close in I arrived in London the day I was due to see Charlie and as I was queuing for another great musical I came across a nice chap that decides to express his full disc race and disappointment in seeing Charlie and the chocolate factory and ensured me to enter with "Low Expectations". So for the rest of the day I was unsure how it could seem so popular and yet have so many bad points from just one man. Well the time had come and I entered the theatre to see that, although there are real wonka bars in production they did not sell at the theatre which I feel could make the experience that little more memorable. The show began with a backstory of Mr Wonka And then the whole golden ticket cam with great surprise, the concept of how each golden ticket winner is revealed was truly amusing, the music that accompanied that character was fitting and the storyline/lyric were try to the original. I also loved how they worked on the stage set and the ways they manage to "rid" the children from the factory. The whole team from cast, crew and production have done the Roald Dahl. I genuinely liked this show and thought it was worth the money I paid. Bravo!! X

Ying

Love it! Amazing voice from Charlie and the performers! Jonny Depp was indeed too fantastic who has set an icon/ image of Wonka, but still, great performance from Douglas! Cool stage design! Love the songs! I do love the novel and film, but the musical has definitely worked out especially with the new representation of Violet Beauregarde and the Dad! The dance with Mike Teves was also unbelievable! Love the electronic style! But ticket price was pretty high though.

Dean Taylor

Sad to say me and wife thought the show was very poor, the music a huge let down, cast weak in places, more cabaret than theatre, wish i had read the reviews first, waste of money, so sad great opportunity to produce a classic , the producers should go and watch the film again . That bad i fell asleep.Why do productions mess around and think they can re write a classic. Should have given it to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Camilla

Memorable, magic and exciting. An experience that an adult becomes a child.

Elizabeth

We took my daughter for her 10th birthday and her younger sister 8. Both children absolutely loved the show and thought it was as good as Matilda. would recommend!

Laura

It appears that the whole budget went on the (admittedly fantastic) set. The music was a let-down and Wonka was more cabaret performer than dark and mysterious chocolatier. However, the main criticism is that the performers all spoke too fast, particularly in the songs. The kids' songs were almost unintelligible in some places and I'm sure I only caught about 20% of the words.

Mel

I saw the previous and like others was really disappointed with the songs. Obviously for us that know the film well, you naturally miss the original score, but i still expected better. There are no memorable songs, most are dull and you end up drifting off. The set is nice and there are some good tricks but the songs do let it down quite a bit in my opinion

Bernard

Did the reviewer actually said: "army of midget labourers"?!!!! Wouldn't dwarf be more appropriate? Even the Oompa Loompas deserve a little more respect!

Ron

Pleasant...but totally unmemorable. The book and score are a real let-down.

peter dubens

went to the premier tonight thought it was extremely good, the sets were excellent and the child performances were some of the best I have seen in the west end. My 10 year old daughter thought it was the best show she had seen so far even better than Matilda

Martin

Disappointing. The sense of humour that Roald Dahl is known for is almost totally absent here.

Darren

One of the best things I've seen in a long time. The production values are brilliant - the factory set pieces are amazing feats of imagination, fun and engineering. Hodge is a great Wonka - very underplayed and subtle which I quite liked. I went in a group of adults and we felt like children. They really ramp up the excitement and tease the reveals of the things we're all waiting for - the oompa loompahs and the factory itself. Just GO - don't read any reviews or look at any production shots. It's a show that plays on the mystery of the factory. If it's this slick as a preview, then i can't wait to see it once all the kinks are worked out.

Jonny

Really underwhelming. Admittedly saw a preview and things will improve, but it will need more than some minor adjustments. Songs go in one ear and out the other, with only Pure Imagination sticking out as it's the only well known song. Hodge's Wonka lacks any pizzazz and the factory (apart from amazing projections) leaves you feeling cold with Oompa Loompas feeling like they're from a cheap panto. However the kids are amazing and feel like the most real characters on the stage. Hopefully things will improve during previews but it will take an awful lot to make it a classic show.