*** 3 Stars
Roald Dahl published one of his most cherished works in 1964 adding magic to generations of childhoods. Nearly 50 years later in 2013 the musical adaptation with music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by David Greig debuted at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s west end to mixed critical response. It would go on to run for three years before closing and a heavily reworked production would open on Broadway in 2017 it’s that production which spawned the first U.S Tour.
It’s that touring production which forms the basis for this brand new debut UK tour which is calling a the Edinburgh Playhouse until April 15th. While the production sparkles with imagination in its visuals it lacks somewhat in story and creative choices.
Director James Brining has formed a tight ensemble company of performers to bring Charlie’s story of going from the poorest shack in town to dreaming of the impossible if he can find the legendary golden ticket aided by the magical quality that is Willy Wonka ( a charming and engaging turn from Gareth Snook). The choice that the entire company with exception of Charlie is played by adults does detract from Dahl’s original intention and leaves little child like wonder in the show. The performances are excellent throughout, especially Robin Simoes Da Silva as Augustus Gloop he does embody childish impish glee with abandonment. Michael D’Cruze gives a warm hearted turn as Grandpa Joe that leaves you smiling from start to finish his dreams are as big as Charlie’s and to see them come true is a joy to watch. Charlie is played by four child actors in rotation, on press night Noah Walton gives a simply beguiling performance and big things lie ahead for this talented performer.
Leonie Spilsbury as Mrs Bucket/ Mrs Teavee has been given the most interesting of creative directions in the show especially when she plays Mrs Bucket as she uses Sign Language to communicate at certain moments throughout the show and only Charlie and Grandpa Joe return the sign language on a couple of occasions, it’s very jarring as for those with hearing impairments they will only get a small snatch of the dialog, if sign is to be used it has to be committed too for the entire performance. That said its brave choice and solid starting point in the journey to making musical theatre fully accessible and has to be commended.
While the story does comes through in this production it does feel slightly stunted and never really gets going till act 2 when Wonka and the children enter the factory, this show follows the book and the 1970’s Warner brothers movie starring the great Gene Wilder closely and even features “Candy Man” and “ Pure Imagination”. So the creative choice to have the Oompa Loompa’s played by up to 6ft tall cast members is a misfire and instead of the child friendly creatures they are more Dr Who level scary this is cemented by Emily Jane Boyle’s Choreography which delivers on this scarier vision for the creatures.
Looking at the production side this show truly shines, Simon Higlett’s stunning Set and Costume design brings Wonka’s world brilliantly to life aided by Tim Mitchell innovative Lighting Design and Simon Wainwright’s, gorgeous video design (a tip is try to sit in the circle or balcony as even the stage floor forms part of the video projection and its wonderful). Ellen Campbell’s ten strong orchestra deliver in spades supported by Mike Walkers on the money sound design that really makes the best of the playhouse to ensure ever word and note is heard around the extensive auditorium.
While it would be impossible to Tour the West End production this show is a visual treat and really pushes the envelope of touring theatre, and there is rock solid and highly entertaining evening of musical theatre fun, but it could have delivered more that said this really is the ultimate Easter treat for the family to enjoy! So why not search for a golden ticket of your own and head for the Edinburgh Playhouse!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 15th April, for tickets go to: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical | March 2023 | Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh | ATG Tickets