Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical at Leeds Playhouse

Friday 25th November 2022 at Leeds Playhouse.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When a show features “Pure Imagination” as its musical heart-stone, the production itself must surely match the description, and Leeds Playhouse delivers the goods with plenty of spectacle, heart and a lovely cast in their production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical.

As one of Roald Dahl’s best works, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a tall order for a stage show and as with their production of The Witches a fair few years ago, Leeds Playhouse are pretty brave in embracing the darker shades of Roald Dahl here. Dahl’s classics have been softened in various adaptations, but it’s always nice to be reminded of how skilfully the stories balance fun and peril… Both David Greig’s book and director James Brining’s vision for the tale certainly seem to appreciate both sides of Dahl’s (chocolate) coin. So, whether you know the tale or not, this show will teach youngsters and grown ups alike all about what really matters in life – and what can happen when we lose sight of what’s important…!

A great cast is in place, from the sizeable ensemble to the leads, and we are given fantastic renditions of recognisable characters from our childhood: Kazmin Borrer is a delightfully petulant Veruca Salt; Marisha Morgan is a brilliantly boisterous Violet Beauregarde; Teddy Hinde is a hot-headed horror as pushy Mike Teavee and Robin Simões Da Silva is a deliciously comic Augustus Gloop. The Oompa Loomlas get a good outing too, with costuming (Simon Higlett) and choreography (Emily Jane Boyle) doing a stellar job of giving them that all-important sense of quirky uniqueness.

Our leading actors are just as well played, similar enough to the originals to inspire nostalgic enjoyment but new and revised enough to entertain young(er) tastes. Amelia Minto is just wonderful as Charlie Bucket: assured, impossibly kind-hearted and thoroughly adorable, while Gareth Snook is bold in his take on Willy Wonka: playful and funny but also relishing in the subtle undertones of threat. The family relationships are also highlights, with both Leonie Spilsbury’s Mrs Bucket and Michael D’Cruze’s Grandpa Joe being particularly lovely examples of warm, supportive family arms holding the wee child with nothing in the world (but love, of course) safe and close.

Simon Higlett’s costumes really do justice to the various reveals and surprises found in the plot (as do Chris Fisher’s slick illusions). His set designs offer an endearingly cosy-looking communal Bucket abode and the heights of the local tip, but also plenty of opportunity for whizzy tech designs to shine as well. I mean, how do you go about creating the kind of creative wilderness of the Wonka Chocolate Factory on stage? Projection, that’s how. Simon Wainwright’s video designs carry much of the spectacle of the second act and really go to town in painting lively, magical visuals of the various impossibilities hiding behind Wonka’s closed doors.

While this is a musical – a kind of sung-through musical for children, the songs (music: Marc Shaiman; lyrics: Scott Wittman, Shaiman) are more functional than catchy – nice to listen to as the story goes along but not necessarily ditties you’d put on for a road trip. Even if the songs don’t follow you home though, the visuals do – and when it comes to set, costume and effects, this show is a wonderful theatrical experience for children. So if it’s a show to make tiny eyes wide with wonder, I’d call this a big win for Leeds Playhouse.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical plays Leeds Playhouse until January 28th 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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