Tonight is the worldwide premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in London.
When I was little I used to watch the Gene Wilder version (the only one, then!) of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I’d have to cover my eyes or leave the room when it got to the soda pop scene. The part of the film where Charlie and Grandpa Jo drink the fizzy drink and then start to levitate and they’re getting closer and closer to the fan at the top. I was so afraid for them; I think I cried the first time I watched it. I still have trouble not getting so involved in a book or film and can’t watch horror films at all. I barely read novels because I find it so hard to break away from them and back into my own reality.
Despite this, the film was one of my favourites growing up. Alongside reading Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree novels it was one of my favourite fantasy escapes. I longed for a world where you had wonderful, magical sweets and rooms and fields where everything was a sweet edible treat. It was probably a huge influencer in me creating Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, they are my own little 21st Century version of that childhood excitement of sweet exploration. I especially love seeing the faces of my guests when they try an award winning chocolate truffle for the first time (if you haven’t, I can’t possibly describe to you how far away this is from a Lindt Lindor truffle, as special as they can seem!), or when they experience a salted caramel or chocolate with wasabi or Marmite, or when they get their tour of one of the venues on the Mayfair tour, where the toilets are like you’ve landed in the Mike Teevee scene – all bright white and obscure.
Needless to say, I was delighted that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was being adapted again for the stage.
I saw it from the stalls a few weeks ago, after the initial issues but still during the preview period. It was a Monday night and the theatre was pretty full. To be critical, some of the acting and singing was little better than a high school production (sadly I don’t just mean the kids) and I struggled to understand a lot of what was being said, especially by the grandparents. The first half was good enough, but it is the second half where the show really gets going. The scenery and changes between them are truly remarkable. Mark Thompson deserves an award. It is the rooms in the book come to life: absorbing and seamless. The Oompa Loompas were the absolute highlight, a great production and choreography of their songs. Though the songs are all a little bit… so so. It was exciting sitting and wondering how they will create the next scene and each time being overawed by the originality and skill. If you are a Roald Dahl fan, it is worth seeing for this alone. You’ll see why the show was delayed and required extra reinforcement for the equipment!
Luckily for me and my nervous disposition, they’d removed the scenes were Charlie’s life was in danger and wrapped up all the (vaguely) loose ends by the curtain. Now, when will someone put on the Adventures of the Faraway Tree?
HOT TIP: Buy some chocolate before you go in!