“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…” in all honesty these iconic lyrics sum up the scrumptious feast of sound, colour and comedy currently being served up at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory goes live, directed by three time Tony award winner Jack O’Brien.
The classic tale of how one bar of chocolate changed the life of the poor Charlie Bucket and his family is one many of us fell in love with as children. The bed-ridden grandparents, the hideous children joining Charlie on his tour of Wonka’s factory, the off-kilter moral compass of the eccentric Willy Wonka himself and of course the peculiar chorus of Oompa Loompas.
The very essence of Dahl’s story is expertly reimagined for a modern-day audience, while staying true to the original narrative. Mike Teavee has moved on from his 50s cowboy-show addiction to the more current gaming epidemic afflicting teens of today. We learn he hacked his way to a Golden Ticket. The obnoxious and spoilt Veruca Salt has left her British brat behind for a Russian ballerina, while Violet Beauregard is an aspiring Beyoncé-wannabe with a Dad-ager to boot and a clever play on words to reflect her obsession with gum; all hail the Queen of Pop!
Augustus Gloop is perhaps the only character to remain unchanged in this production and for that I am thankful because what is more hilarious than a Bavarian barrel of a boy falling head first into a chocolate fountain.
Wonka himself is played by Paul Slade Smith and in my opinion is the star around which this fabulous cast orbits. Slade Smith’s comic timing is impeccable and his impersonation of the kooky chocolatier pays elegant homage to Gene Wilder’s Wonka (1971). In a comic twist, Slade Smith dons regular clothes to open a chocolate shop in Charlie’s street, treating the audience to a series of endearing interactions between himself and Charlie during the first half of the show. A brilliant way to build that relationship between the ageing factory owner and his would-be protégé, we see Charlie’s passion for the sweet stuff and his Wonka-like inventions slowly impress the man who started it all.
The news of Golden Ticket winners is delivered by the hilarious news-reading duo Jerry and Cherry, with musical numbers tailored to each of the four children “lucky” enough to enter Willy Wonka’s factory.
Of course the famous tower on Charlie’s horizon has been closed for decades with no one leaving or entering the factory gates and no one has more to say about its mysterious owner than Charlie’s own Grandpa Joe (played by Tony Sheldon). Alongside Slade Smith’s Wonka, Sheldon’s mad-cap, anecdote-wielding pensioner is a true delight. Quick with a story and a witty retort, Grandpa Joe is Charlie’s ally and best friend and their mutual fascination with Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is wonderfully translated from page to stage.
What to Charlie himself? I cannot fault Tommy Blair’s performance as Charlie Bucket. Alternating in the role with Oliver Alkhair, Xion Jarvis and Ryan Yeates; the young Blair brought a fresh look to Dahl’s daydreamer protagonist. An aspiring inventor with a love of chocolate and a knack for harnessing its potential for the unexpected; this Charlie Bucket may be poor but he’s not letting that stop his dreams from reaching the richest heights. Commanding the stage just as well as his adult cast-mates, Blair channelled energy and charisma throughout his entire performance.
The acting was only further elevated by the spectacular staging and sets which transformed an ordinary stage into a world of pure imagination, from the rickety four poster bed housing Charlie’s grandparents to the extraordinary interiors within Wonka’s factory. What an impressive feat of theatrical coordination to recreate those famous scenes from Dahl’s story and the films which followed. The room made entirely of sweets and chocolate, the nut room with its feisty squirrels and the TV that quite literally drew Mike Teavee down to size. Not a detail is missed, and that includes those little green-haired, orange-faced men who pop up time and time again in the event of a “bad nut” taking on a little more than they can swallow. The Oompa Loompas are a revelation, so cleverly inserted into this production with the help of puppetry and clever staging. Their arrival on stage was one of the greatest comedic moments I have witnessed in a theatrical offering.
With brand new musical numbers punctuating the action and one or two original tunes too, this is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as you’ve never seen it before. Scoop yourself a golden ticket and come along for the ride of your life which will leave you wanting more and quite possibly singing your way out of the theatre (or was that just me!).
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What you need to know:
What: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical
Where: The Capitol Theatre, Sydney
When: On now until 9 June 2019
Duration: The show is 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Who: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is recommended for ages 6 and older.
Getting There: The theatre is located in the heart of Haymarket, close to Paddy’s Market and the Chinese Friendship Garden and Darling Quarter. Train: The theatre is a 5 minute walk from Central Station, take Eddy Avenue exit and walk across Belmore Park. Light Rail: stops next to the theatre in Capitol Square. Bus: Nearest stops are Pitt St near Campbell St, Hay St near Pitt St, and Pitt St near Eddy Avenue. Driving: see below. For more help planning your visit click here
Parking: Less than a 5 minute walk, Market City Wilson Parking is the closest carpark to the theatre, located at 2 Quay Street. You don’t need to book, just take your ticket to the box office to have it validated and pay $8 when you return to the carpark after the show.