Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Edinburgh Playhouse

Written by Roald Dhal

Play Book by David Grieg

Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A wondrous world of Pure Imagination awaits audiences at The Edinburgh Playhouse for the next two weeks, as the ever-popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues onward with its new UK tour after a successful stint in the Westend. 

By now, the timeless classic has a place in the hearts of children and adults across the globe: whether it be the original cinematic masterpiece, the Tim Burton re-vamp, or of course, the magical adventure of Roald Dahl’s original. Seeking to capture liquid sunshine, bottle it, and deliver it to eager theatre audiences in Edinburgh, David Grieg’s stage show lands the glass elevator in the city until April 15th. So, along with those five lucky children offered a spot on a tour of the secluded Wonka factory, audiences best find their golden ticket before the journey begins. You’ve no idea what awaits beyond those Playhouse doors…

A real goodie-two-shoes, but still possessing that greedy glint in their eye for a scrumptious bar of chocolate, Noah Walton makes a touching and vibrant Charlie – a charmingly well-presented performer who enhances the performances of anyone lucky enough to share the stage – especially Michael D’Cruze’s suddenly limber and bouncing Grandpa Joe. Together, the pair make for a charismatic and genuine guide through the world of Dahl’s creation, Walton tying it altogether with a lovely rendition of the opening song Almost Nearly Perfect.

But what of the denizen of this magic kingdom? The mind behind the ever-lasting gobstopper, the insurance nightmare that is Willy Wonka. Well, from Les Misérables tMade in Dagenham, stage and screen treasure Gareth Snook is more than happy to don that purple top hat, and the candy-striped cane. The ex-Phantom of the Opera star rises to the challenging original lyrics of the production, balancing the more-spoke-sung elements with deft control and a hint of that darker Dahl antagonism. It’s a remarkably layered portrayal which does borrow from Gene Wilder’s cinematic incarnation but infuses a much less callous, more unhinged inventor into the mad-chocolate maestro. But there’s a touching sincerity Snook manages to weave throughout the visuals and splendour, one that ferments and brews into a passionate finale and rousing rendition of the crowd favourite: Pure Imagination.

One can’t help but feel less than sympathetic to the punishments and consequences which befall the other children who make their way into the factory – from Robin Simões da Silva’s gluttonous Gloop to Marisha Morgan’s impetuous Violet Beauregarde. Ensemble performers often double up roles and put in a staggering amount of work through the performance. Leonie Spilsbury and Kazmin Borrer as Charlie’s mother and Veruca Salt are snatching scenes; Spilbury’s with her motherly sincerity, Borrer with her loud and brash command of Veruca’s determination.

But amongst the ensemble roles – one standout of the evening will brand the fantasies (and nightmares) of many. Those charming Oompa Loompas, in whatever design, have always been a quaint addition to the tale. But Higlett’s Eyes Wide Shut incarnation of the heralds of punishment arrives on the stage in a blazing light of ominous terror. Subject to taste, their design, their entrance, and their new rendition of the Oompa Loompa Song is an absolute highlight of the show – drawing much-needed focus to Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography, but also demonstrates how weak the other numbers are.

Musically, the show features originally produced songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, but lyrics are launched with such a pace that they’re initially indistinguishable from the ensemble’s melody and chatter. It’s a neigh-impossible feat to find a balance with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s iconic numbers (The Candy Man and Pure Imagination), and while Shaiman’s melancholic, almost threatening and suddenly bouncing composition find a unique dimension, the lyrics fizzle away amidst it all.

The visual character of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a double-edged nature to the use of intense CGI visuals with the backdrop screen in the second act. Some audiences may find it distracting, even a little cold in its detachment from the more physical presence of the cast: Simon Higlett’s set and costume and Chris Fisher’s practical illusions carry so much wonder. Practically, it makes perfect sense for the quick-pace succession of tasting rooms, sorting aisles and eventual imagination office of the Wonka factory, where the physical use of props and staging are used Charlie and the Chocolate Factory glitters with a vibrancy and intense richness balanced by its whimsy and saccharine wonder. Audiences marvel at the steam-punk ramshackle Bucket household, and gaze in amazement at the Nut sorting room (complete with trained Squirrel): the only let-down is the first stop in the factory, the chocolate river which is entirely relegated to the aforementioned projection and screen.

A stimulating tribute to human invention as well as artistic imagination, the Leeds Playhouse re-staging of the original West End hit may sacrifice a few set dressings but maintains the key ingredients to concoct a satisfactory evening for all. The sickly sweet story of family and one boy’s generosity will fulfil even the most cavity filled of mouths, while the snippets of Dahl’s more harsh life lessons and fears win over the sceptical in the room. This delectable, theatrically delicious adventure is a surefire hit for the tastebuds.

Theatrically Delicious

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until April 15th. Check the website for various dates and times.
Running time – Two hours and thirty minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 7+
Tickets begin from £13.00 and may be obtained here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s