You don't have to be a kid to enjoy this. I took one along as a decoy and loved every minute of this bright and clever production and he did too.
It is the well-known Roald Dahl story of a little boy called Charlie Bucket, who is a poor but kind little boy. He lives with his hard-working widowed mum. His dad has died, but his four dotty grandparents are all alive and tucked up in bed, the most vocal and mobile of whom is Grandpa Joe.
Charlie loves chocolate but he also loves Willy Wonka, the man who manufactures the best chocolate in town. When Charlie hears that Willy Wonka has released Five Golden Tickets in his bars, he would like nothing better than the chance to win one and visit the chocolate factory he has spent years dreaming about – but their finances can barely cover their daily meal let alone stretch to a chocolate bar. Grandpa Joe, however, has been saving up and manages to give Charlie money to buy himself a bar as a birthday treat. Sadly, it is not the winning one... Meanwhile, the winning participants are announced and one by one we are introduced to the characters.
I have to say they were all portrayed superbly from the sausage eating Augustus Gloop and his lederhosen family to the spoilt and precocious Veruca Salt, the gum chewing and the corny Californian father and daughter couple in Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee and his very 1950s dressed mum. And of course, there is Charlie but he gets lucky right at the last minute. We are introduced to the children and their families. Their costumes were spot on, the accompanying song and dances delightfully relevant to their background and circumstances and their sheer character traits all coming through in the lyrics, true to the book. What I enjoyed particularly were the bits of 21st-century realism that popped into their stories. My little decoy was wide-eyed and wondrous – "Do they really live in California Marina?", "How did they come here?" "Are they real or pretend?" "Those Oompa Loompas are they little people?" "No, no I can see people behind them". There were video games and consoles, hip hop music sequences and crafty tricks with TVs.
Yes, as the little shop wraps up its business and the seller packs up, he drops a pound and with this pound, Charlie manages to buy the last chocolate bar and he finds the winning ticket. We could not be happier about this – end of part one.
Photograph by Darren Thomas.
The second part of the play is devoted to the children's adventures within the great Chocolate Factory and without revealing too much of the story, it would not surprise you to hear that some of them fall victim to their greed and sheer nastiness. The episodes are all very engaging and there are moments when the whole audience was laughing out loud at their antics.
Charlie and Grandpa Joe are the ones hanging on, sensible and caring but also the ones most determined to win the grand prize. I think everyone has won a prize watching this production. The sets are phantasmagorical and colourful, the changes of scenes quick and faultless and the story proceeds at a cracking pace.
Stephen Andersen is Willy Wonka, Robert Grubb is Grandpa Joe, Lucy Maunder is Mrs Bucket and Cooper Matthews is the lovely Charlie.