Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Anne Cox reviews the new theatre sensation

Douglas Hodge and cast in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Helen Maybanks.
Douglas Hodge and cast in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Director Sam Mendes is probably helping himself to a giant Wonka Whipplescrumptious Fudgemallow Delight after finally launching this year’s big budget blockbuster Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this week.

And who could blame him? Expectations have been incredibly high ever since the project was announced.

Tom Klenerman

Tom Klenerman

But after a celebrity filled gala opening at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on Tuesday night, I have to report from the red carpet, that the Roald Dahl classic is a triumph.

The musical could have overdosed on saccharine to appease the mass market but instead Mendes has kept true to the author’s darker fondant fancies. The children, bar our hero, little Charlie Bucket, are absolute monsters - and I hope the young actors all go on to become top adult stars.

The larger-than-life sets, the technical wizardry and the occasional sleight of hand by its star, Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka, makes the show a magical experience. Children sitting near me were mesmerised and wide-eyed by the wonder of it all.

Lovers of the book will feel immediately at home as the show opens in a shabby, run-down street, that is home to Charlie, his parents and bed-ridden grandparents.

The poor souls don’t have much so, when a competition is announced that will see five golden ticket holders gain access to the world’s most secretive candy factory, they hold out little hope that kind-hearted Charlie will be lucky.

Eventually four of the winners are announced and they are children of the most hideous kind. You can almost imagine Dahl’s sadistic chuckle as he dreamt up strange and wildly imaginative ways of ensuring each met with a sticky end.

By a huge stroke of luck Charlie wins the fifth ticket and we embark on a journey of discovery that takes us into the strange and eccentric world of Willy Wonka.

Hodge makes a superb and charismatic Wonka offering up just the right amount of cynicism and sarcasm along with some fine singing and dancing. He made one little boy’s night when he popped up in one of the boxes during the show.

There are squads of children waiting in the wings for their performances as the ticket winners. At my show we had Oxfordshire schoolboy Tom Klenerman as Charlie; Harrison Slater as the bratwurst-gorging Augustus Gloop; Matilda veteranEllie Simons as the horrendously spoilt Veruca Salt; the gum-chewing, “Double-Bubble Duchess” Violet Beauregarde was played by India Ria Amarteifio and the manic Mike Teavee was played by nine-year-old Adam Mitchell.

I mention them all because each was superb.

Nigel Planer plays Grandpa Jo with bit too much of a Dick Van Dyke cockney accent but overall this is a hugely enjoyable musical that well deserved its standing ovation and the sugar rush for tickets. Its run has already been extended and it only officially opened three days ago.

My one disappointment was in the casting of Wonka’s workers, the mysterious Oompa Loompas. Dwarfs would have worked so much better (and the guys need the work when not in panto) rather than full-sized adults in adapted costumes (although their strange appearance did add to the surrealism of the piece).

Overall Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is scrumtiddlydunctious which I know isn’t a word - but is should be - and Mendes can now turn his attention to directing the next James Bond.

For tickets and information call the box office 0844 4124656.

@LBOanne