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A couple of weeks ago I felt as if I’d won a golden ticket, receiving an invitation to review the touring production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical at The Marlowe Theatre. The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s world-renowned children’s book is touring the UK and Ireland for 2023-2024, following a successful West End run at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, some time on Broadway and two US national tours. With direction by James Brining, I was thrilled to be able to attend the show’s press night here in Canterbury and see the iconic story in musical format for the first time.
Ahead of the performance, I was invited backstage for a tour of some of the props, costumes and the gates of the magnificent chocolate factory set. Hosted by Company Manager Neil White, it was an incredible pre-show experience which involved a photo opportunity with a golden ticket. Before I get into a detailed production review, if you are interested in seeing this, there is a reel over on my Instagram account, sharing snippets of this special moment.
Differences within the stage show
I had high expectations for the performance, largely influenced by the strength of Roald Dahl’s children’s book and my friends’ rave reviews of the original West End production. It follows the same story, focusing on the good in Charlie, but the character is not always presented as a young boy. There are four Charlies in the cast and depending on which performance you attend, the character will be male or female. On press night Charlie was played by Amelia Minto and it must have been so inspiring for young girls to see Minto in the role. A related change is the Bucket household having a maternal focus. There is no mention of Charlie’s father and Mrs Bucket (played by Leonie Spilsbury) is the matriarch of the family.
Additionally, the ‘Oompa Loompas’ have been transformed into robots for the show, giving the chocolate factory a contemporary edge. Their manner and dance moves add to the drama and comedy in the second act, when the four golden ticket winners have to leave the factory tour following various incidents.
Despite having a soundtrack by Hairspray musical masterminds Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, I didn’t take to the score. I found that the songs didn’t stand out as much as other shows that I have seen and it was hard to place them on the same pedestal as ‘The Candy Man’ and ‘Pure Imagination’ from the film. Although, the music definitely adds humour to the production and aids character development. In the case of the golden ticket winners, this could be seen in the introductory four ‘News’ bulletin numbers in act one and the individual downfalls of the children towards the end of the production (‘Auf Wiedersehen Augustus Gloop’, ‘You Got Whacha You Want’, ‘Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet’ and Vidiots’).
A show of two halves
Whilst the first act has some emotional exchanges between Charlie and her family, it lacks the energy, excitement and buzz of the second half for me. I think this was largely down to my reservations surrounding the score and the lengthy build up to the factory visit. By the interval I was unsure whether it was living up to my high expectations, but everything changed for me during act two.
Starting with the wonderful song ‘Pure Imagination’, Willy Wonka (Gareth Snook) immediately takes the golden ticket winners and their families inside the chocolate factory. When I was a child, I remember my imagination going wild as I turned the pages of Roald Dahl’s book. As a grown up watching the musical I was wowed by the creative team’s approach to bringing the factory rooms to life. It goes without saying that the author’s work is difficult to recreate in the theatre, especially when you have a very limited window for scene changes and don’t have the luxury of cameras and editing. The way the set designers and lighting engineers manage to make you believe the children are travelling between the rooms of the chocolate factory is nothing short of impressive. The lighting projections are truly magical and completely transformed the whole show for me, bringing it up to a four star production.
Amelia Minto is fantastic in the role of Charlie. The actress plays the part with a quiet sense of confidence, always appearing unassuming and grateful on stage. The glass elevator scene with Gareth Snook is extremely emotional; the pairing have such a fantastic teacher-mentor relationship.
Furthermore a special mention must go to Leonie Spilsbury for her work in the dual roles of Mrs Bucket and Mrs Teavee. As a hard of hearing performer, Spilsbury signs many of her lines as Mrs Bucket. The use of British Sign Language in this isolated manner is extremely moving and goes a long way towards normalising the use of BSL in theatre. She is also hilarious as Mrs Teavee; what a multi-talented individual covering two very different personalities within the show!
An imaginative family musical filled with spectacular visual effects, staging and memorable characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the touring production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory*. It really comes into its own towards the end and the projections are brilliantly done, showcasing Willy Wonka’s empire. I read the book as a child and after all these years, I am still championing Charlie, just this time in the form of exceptional young talent Amelia Minto!
The show is based at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 3rd June and last minute tickets for the remaining performances can be purchased from the theatre’s website. Fans of Roald Dahl’s writing are bound to enjoy seeing the classic story brought to life on stage.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical were gifted in exchange for a review.