Review Roundup: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Opens in the West End - All the Reviews!
Douglas Hodge stars as Willy Wonka in the brand-new production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London. Directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes, the story is brought to life with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Grammy winners for Hairspray; Smash), with a book by award-winning playwright and adaptor David Greig (The Bacchae; Tintin In Tibet). The show opens tonight, June 25.
Alongside Hodge as Willy Wonka, the cast will include Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe, Clive Carter as Mr Salt, Jasna Ivir as Mrs Gloop, Paul J Medford as Mr Beauregarde, Iris Roberts as Mrs Teavee and Myra Sands as Grandma Georgina.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Spencer, The Telegraph: Director Sam Mendes lays on the theatrical goodies with a trowel. The sets are massive, the special effects amazing. If you want to see a fat boy sucked up a transparent tube or a girl metamorphosing before your very eyes into a giant blueberry, this is undoubtedly the show for you. Yet it only rarely touches the heart or stimulates the imagination like the RSC's less spectacular but far more rewarding production of Dahl's Matilda...Most of the songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, strike me as serviceable rather than memorable and David Greig's script springs disappointingly few surprises. But the production has two good things going for it. Douglas Hodge is a splendidly charismatic and disconcerting Willy Wonka, brilliantly combining jokes with a twitchy hint of the psycho, and the child performers are superb.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: What stops the show being overwhelmed by spectacle is the performances: above all, Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka. Kitted out in plum-coloured tailcoat, bottle-green trousers and black top hat - exactly as Dahl prescribes - Hodge has the great gift of being engaging and sinister at the same time...He also puts across the show's best number, Pure Imagination (originally written by Newley and Bricusse for the 1971 movie), with a sincerity that conceals its paradoxical nature in a production that pre-empts our own fantasies...Less whimsical than Gene Wilder in the movie, Hodge gloriously reminds us that inside the beneficent Wonka lurks a testy authoritarian...All this is testament to Mendes's skill in masterminding a lavish bonanza of a musical without letting us forget that Dahl's book is a morality play in which vice is punished and virtue gets its edible reward.Caroline McGinn, Time Out London: Thanks to David Greig's wickedly sardonic script and some talented child leads, Charlie's rivals are updated brilliantly for our show off-loving times...But young Bucket fades into the background and it's a relief when all the extraneous Dickensian domestic scenes showing what a nice lad he is are out of the way. Designer Mark Thompson has raised the bar on what kind of world it's possible to create on a stage, given colossal ingenuity (and a multimillion pound budget)...As Wonka, Douglas Hodge - a surprisingly straight choice - channels Rex Harrison as a charismatic, very English conductor for this nutty symphony...'Hairspray' team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have written fun pastiches of various genres that gives you an instant high then leave you with a headache. Mendes's show just fails to reach the core of Dahl's everlasting gobstopper of a story. But it's a bumper box of a family entertainment, with a golden wrapper and plenty of whipple-scrumptious surprises.
Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail: The first half is as slow as cold treacle and most of the songs - which include an ironic techno-beat number - are duds...On the positive side we can enter clever special effects (a good gag with a shrunken child) and a much better second half. There is a solid central performance from Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka...and the set designs of Wonka's chocolate factory are colourful and plainly expensive. But a really good musical gives you a sugar rush of emotional involvement. You care about the characters. That is absent...Apart from the finale and a duet with Charlie's parents, Marc Shaiman's songs flop and Scott Wittman's lyrics may or may not be witty...This show should have followed that admirable philosophy and devoted more effort to heart and artistry instead of technical high jinks and pre-launch publicity.
Paul Taylor, The Independent: This musical version is certainly blessed in its leading performers. As the enigmatic chocolatier, the brilliant Douglas Hodge is more school of Gene Wilder (from the 1971 film)...Leaving everyone guessing about his sanity, Hodge's Wonka is a wonderfully unstable cross between a visionary with a screw loose and a Prospero-like figure with a serious game-plan and a yearning to retire...At the performance I saw, Jack Costello's adorable portrayal of Charlie suffused the proceedings with a lovely sense of the boy's pining purity. But the best bits of this rather static stretch are our initial glimpses of the brats...The score by the Hairspray combo of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman is tuneful and wholly unmemorable (the only song you come out humming is "Pure Imagination" the captivating Newley/Bricusse number borrowed from the 1971 film)...Very engaging but rarely elating, this show is a skillful confection that doesn't quite produce the inspired sugar-rush of magic that's required.David Finkle, Huffington Post: If you're a chocoholic like me, you're hoping Charlie and the Chocolate Factorywill be as delectable as biting into a piece of fudge or a brownie or triple chocolate ice cream.
Sorry, fellow chocolate lovers. Though the musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane begins with a cunning Quentin Blake animated film on how our favorite food proceeds from bean to bar, the musical adapted from Roald Dahl's children's story by David Greig with songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is as bad a transformation to the stage as the Tim Minchin-Dennis Kelly treatment of Dahl's Matilda is good...Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes--whom you think would know better (look what he did with James Bond and Skyfall, look what he did with The Bridge Project, look what he did with you-name-it)--has put up the extravaganza with apparently little care other than to get those six-year-old jaws dropping. David Benedict, Variety: Drama has never been central to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Roald Dahl's story and the two so-so movie versions used vivid prose or super-saturated-color visuals to disguise the lack of tension. Onstage in Sam Mendes's production, its absence is everywhere apparent. Mark Thompson's all-stops-out design keeps diverting attention from the all-pervasive problem, but both the dismaying first act and somewhat stronger second act feel, for the most part, woefully static. Since tuners thrive on movement, physical and emotional, that is, to put it mildly, disappointing.
Alun Palmer, The Mirror: Roald Dahl's 1964 cautionary tale of childhood excess is as fresh today as it was then. Obesity, indolence, TV addiction and grinding poverty all surface in the story of poor Charlie Bucket's triumph over a clutch of despicable children. And following his triumph with Bond movie Skyfall, director Sam Mendes has created a show with a heart bigger than a city...Mendes' adaptation owes a great deal to the perennially popular Gene Wilder musical though sadly he borrows just one tune from that magnificent score...Douglas Hodge, too, excels as Wonka himself, carving a difficult path between Wilder and Johnny Depp's more recent take on the character that is both vulnerable and egocentric. This is no West End musical churned off the production line, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really takes the biscuit.
Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times: Greig's adaptation, and Sam Mendes' production, do well at matching the Dahlian blend of wonder, darkness and cheek...Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman already have the musical success of Hairspray under their belts (is that a mixed metaphor?), but it is hard to escape the impression that the combination of sharp lyrics and golden-agey melodies here has been influenced by Tim Minchin's game-raising work on Matilda. As for the acting, musicals are where Douglas Hodge cuts loose (footloose); his Willy Wonka dialogue still feels a little strained, but he will soon relax into it as he does into the capering in song...Overall, the brief in this case clearly is one of visual ravishment plus warm glow, and Mendes, Greig and all concerned come up to the mark. It is flavoursome yet familiar, and above all it won't rot your teeth.
Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has gone through various transformations, but the glorious new musical at Drury Lane has something crucial over the two fine film versions: a real sense of invention and improvisation, and a jack-in-a-box theatrical performance of style, energy and brilliance by Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka....Director Sam Mendes and designer Mark Thompson have created a Dahlian (Daliesque?) dreamland that echoes the drawings of Quentin Blake...The winning children are seen, brilliantly, in "live" TV insets with a yodelling number for Gloop and his mother (Jasna Ivir), a stick and cane item for Veruca Salt and her father (Clive Carter in Peter Bowles pin-stripes), and a funky rap break-out for gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde and her dad (the elasticated Paul J Medford). This indicates the functional eclecticism of the musical comedy score by Hairspray authors Marc Shaiman (music) and Scott Wittman (lyrics, with Shaiman).Keith Bruce, The Herald Scotland: The collaboration of Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman with Scots playwright David Greig, directed by Sam Mendes, designed by Mark Thompson and with crucial magical staging illusions by Jamie Harrison of Glasgow's Vox Motus company, is a triumph in every department. The show's opening cast, including a perfectly pitched Wonka by Douglas Hodge and Nigel Planer as a sprightly Grandpa Joe - as well a quintet of superb young performers, headed by Jack Costello's Charlie - is without a weak link, but the production is so well put-together it will survive, and develop, as any number of new names add to that list. The dovetailing of Greig's book with Whitman and Shaiman's songs is seamless, the latter brilliantly advancing the narrative.
Mayer Nassim, Digital Spy: Mendes's new West End production...stands proudly on its own feet as a remarkable piece of work...Where any musical really stands and falls is the songs, and while Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are perhaps a little too firmly stuck in the classic Broadway mould and don't hit the mark with every number, they do just about enough to rub shoulders with the class of '71...The second half is simply eye-popping. The four not-so-lovely children's uppance is come in a series of remarkable set pieces that would put the makers of Final Destination to shame. To say too much would be to give away the surprise, but there are pipes, animatronic squirrels, gum 'n' glitter and the most imaginative Oompa Loompas ever realized. We're saying nothing about how they do the Mike Teavee bit on stage. It's all so vivid you can taste it.
Arwa Haider, Metro: The scale of its ambition is impressive; director Sam 'Skyfall' Mendes combines blockbuster-movie prowess with solid theatre grounding. Happily, it blends epic staging with genuinely special ingredients, including an animated intro by much-loved Dahl illustrator, Quentin Blake...The show's pacing is slightly uneven; after a gradual build, the chocolate factory tour feels rather hurried in the second act. And even lavish sets can't always capture Dahl's multi-flavoured imagination...Douglas Hodge seizes the role of Willy Wonka with great gusto and magnetism, and a top-hatted nod to Gene Wilder's 1971 film portrayal; his reprisal of Pure Imagination is a spine-tingling highlight alongside a lively original score. Ultimately, this adventure, with its soft-centred sentiments and nicely tart twists, remains a delectable treat.
Simon Edge, Express: Hollywood A-lister Sam Mendes directs, with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the team behind the stage version of Hairspray. With its British setting blurred enough for a comfortable Broadway transfer, it's undoubtedly a triumph of exuberant stagecraft. Designer Mark Thompson delivers one joyous surprise after another...That's enough to make this evening a silver ticket, but whether it's a golden one I'm not quite so sure...Hodge is engaging, Nigel Planer is good fun as Grandpa Joe and there are nice comic turns from Jasna Ivir as Mrs Gloop and Iris Roberts as the frazzled Mrs Teavee. But it lacks the soaring musical thrill of Hairspray...The real problem is I didn't feel moved.
Sam Marlowe, TheArtsDesk: It's all stick and no lollipop, a chocolate box stuffed with nothing but empty wrappers: what a walloping letdown this intensely anticipated musical based on Roald Dahl's perennially popular 1964 children's book turns out to be. With songs by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman - the team behind the irresistible feelgood hit Hairspray - a book by the highly respected playwright David Greig, and direction by the Donmar Warehouse founder and Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, it ought to be a giant peach. Instead, it's as bland and sugary as cheap confectionery. And with so little savour of Dahl's delicious treacly darkness, it's effortlessly kicked into orbit by Matilda and her sassy cohorts, singing and dancing up a storm of wit and wonder over at the West End's Cambridge Theatre and on Broadway.
Susanna Lazarus, RadioTimes: It takes a brave man to retell the story of a factory marvellous for its magnitude within the confines of the stage, but the ambitious vision of Mendes and his production team succeeds in putting in front of us what our imaginations could only dream of...Their show is unashamedly flash with big-budget sets designed to spellbind an audience excitedly awaiting the next big surprise, and while you won't walk out reciting the lyrics or humming the melodies, they neatly bolster a production that makes a character of the factory itself.
Eleanor MacFarlane, The Upcoming: Douglas Hodge plays Willy Wonka as a magical showman, with colourful charisma and a decent voice. Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe has amiable stage presence, and the entire cast perform with zest as if their life depended on it. Director Sam Mendes uses his movie experience with an overview which ties up loose ends, making Charlie's inventiveness the quality Wonka sees in him as the right heir to his empire. Many small and large theatrical touches have impact, from a wish upon a star, to the Great Glass Elevator, which makes its impressive appearance near the end. Sweet-producing robots, hilarious Oompa Loompas, great new songs and funny scripting enhance the ingenious staging.
Kevin Sherwin, BroadwayWorld: Visually, it's a delight: Mark Thompson's design is imaginative, inventive and just plain fun, with the dank surroundings of Act I contrasting very effectively with the burst of colour that occurs when the factory opens its doors...The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is delightful in its own way...It's not perfect: a couple of the songs don't come over especially well...I couldn't help but long for a show-stopping belter along the lines of anything from the duo's irresistible (albeit fictional) 'Bombshell'. The score works very well though, and while it's true that audiences are likely to leave humming the only song that remains from the original film, it's an unfair comparison given that song's four-decade head start...Douglas Hodge, all whimsical malevolence, has a great stab at making the character of Wonka his own and does his best with some decidedly lame gags but falls short of being able to vocally nail the part...That said, there are flashes of brilliance in his performance, which bodes well for the run as it continues.Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: This is the biggest homegrown musical of the year, and even if it doesn't quite live up to the early hype it's a tremendously inventive show. The industrious Oompa-Loompas are among its candy-coated pleasures, and the wizardry with which they're brought to life is typical of a production that delights in its own cleverness.
Libby Purves, The Times: So not boring, not bad. But when it is over little is left, and no urge to rush back bringing all available children (as I did with Matilda). Wonka's patter-songs are full of paradoxes, and that's apt. For this biggest, costliest, most famous show adds up to nothing much.
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks