Interview: Lucy Maunder And Stephen Anderson of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Crown Theatre

Children's classic and cultural icon comes to the stage as a hit musical.

By: Nov. 05, 2021
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Interview: Lucy Maunder And Stephen Anderson of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Crown Theatre

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is a beloved and well-known story, from Roald Dahl's book to two hit films, and now a musical which opens this week at Crown Theatre. Stepping into this world of pure imagination are Lucy Maunder as Mrs Bucket, and Stephen Anderson as the wonderfully eccentric Willy Wonka. I caught up with them to talk the musical and their experience with one of the world's favourite children's stories.

Both these talented actors have experience with Roald Dahl, having both starred in Matilda The Musical. However, their love for Roald Dahl extends further. "I think the first book of his I read was James and the Giant Peach, but a lot of my favourite books as a kid were by Dahl," said Lucy Maunder. "I love the sort of darkness in every one of his stories. There's always a good message, but he's also not afraid to paint a dark situation. Whether it's a bad character having small wins like in Matilda or Charlie's home life in this. Dahl is one of those authors who seems to have something for everyone."

"I read all his major books when I was a child," added Stephen Anderson. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first full book I remember reading, but all his books played a huge part in my life. On top of that, I have very fond memories of the 1971 Gene Wilder film. I watched that on video so much that I wore the tape out. It's very special to be here playing the same character having grown up with it." Having played a significant part in most of their lives, the two have some ideas as to why the work of Roald Dahl is so enduring. "There's also a theme in this show- and, I think, in all his books- that through the darkness and pain and brutal honesty, that if someone is good and honest and kind good things will happen," said Anderson. "I believe that's a wonderful message to have as a child. His stories don't pretend that the world isn't scary and filled with people who are cruel, but if you're a good person then good things happen."

"There's also a lot of contrasting characters," added Maunder. "If you say the name Augustus Gloop, or Mrs. Trunchbull, or Veruca Salt to anyone they conjure up real images and personas that everyone knows. The first four ticket winners in this are absolutely foul, and even Willy Wonka has a dark side early on. Through it all Charlie and Mrs Bucket are these people who can't help but be kind, and it works out for them."

"I think that message of goodness sums it up. We keep coming back to Roald Dahl books and reimagining them as movies and shows because they're just good stories."

Interview: Lucy Maunder And Stephen Anderson of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Crown Theatre
Stephen Anderson stars as WIlly Wonka

Given that CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is preceded by a classic movie as well as the successful 2005 film, the two actors would have a lot of archetypes to base their characters on. However, both aimed to make the characters their own and not simply repeat what someone else has done.

"I also loved the Gene Wilder film," said Lucy Maunder. "I know my character isn't the same as in the film though. There's no 'Cheer Up Charlie,' Mrs Bucket is more about trying to keep Charlie grounded and honest in this show rather. I do have a lovely song though, a dream ballet with Charlie's father. I let that song guide what I made of the character more than what anyone else had done with the character in the past."

"It's a bit scary to count people like Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp as having played your character," said Stephen Anderson. "But I didn't want to just do what they did either. One thing I did take from Gene Wilder's portrayal is the sadness in his performance. The danger in the Wonka character is that because he's strange and quirky that he can veer into just bits and jokes and just be a comedian. It's a huge character and the storyline makes Wonka this enigma, but at the same time he's a real person who has become isolated because people he trusted betrayed him. It was important to me that my character has that vulnerability and sadness."

Interview: Lucy Maunder And Stephen Anderson of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Crown Theatre
Lucy Maunder (right) plays Mrs Bucket, Charlie's mother

What many don't realise until they see the show is that the musical differs significantly from the well-known film versions, and people shouldn't expect a recreation of something they already know.

"Some songs are familiar," explained Anderson. "There's still 'The Candy Man,' 'I've Got a Golden Ticket,' and 'Pure Imagination' which are well-known songs and it's good to have them there for people to recognize, but the musical is definitely its own adaptation. Indeed, the Buckets in this are Australian. When the Broadway team came out to guide the Australian version of the musical, they made it clear that they wanted this to be a true Australian version, and that works well. It also meant that we could rework it a bit and really put our own stamp on it."

"The new songs are incredible," added Maunder. "The score was written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and there's just some incredible numbers. The final song that Wonka and Charlie sing together, called 'The View from Here,' is just incredible and the music creates some beautiful moments. It was fun being able to be my own character. It's easier for me to play an Aussie character than any other character."

Both Anderson and Maunder were in a successful Melbourne run of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in 2019, and then took the show to Brisbane for a run that was cancelled the day before opening due to COVID. They were able to finally give Brisbane the show earlier this year before heading to Perth, but the changes have also helped the show evolve and change.

"The biggest change I've seen is that show actually seems more relevant now," said Anderson. "It's unexpectedly had more meaning and heart added to it because one theme in the show is isolation. Charlie is an isolated character who only really has his family. Willy Wonka has quite literally been in quarantine for twenty years. The characters all discover get through their isolation by using their hope, creativity, and imagination. Then, when they get out of their isolation, they find something new in how they come together. It clearly means a lot to everyone involved with the show, just how special it is to be involved in one of very few shows happening not just in Australia but around the world. It brings joy to us and hopefully it brings joy to the audiences."

"The show actually changes every night I feel," said Maunder. "We have different relationships with each of the four children playing Charlie. The other four golden ticket winners are adults playing child characters whereas the character of Charlie is played by a child. The four actors who play Charlie are around 12 years old and it's important that he's the only child in the show, but each actor has their own skills and persona and they really show it. The show is different each time we do it which is a unique experience. I think having them around makes the show a bit more special. No matter how we're doing, or how we feel our scenes went, we look to the boy playing Charlie and every time we see someone who is full of energy and excitement and is just happy to be here. It certainly helps us appreciate being able to do this now a little bit more."

There's a lot to take from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, with its well-known child villains, a plot that is well in the public conscience, and slight differences across a book, two hit films, and now a musical. However, both Lucy Maunder and Stephen Anderson can't help but agree that the original meanings are still evident in the show.

"There's a wonderful moment at the end of the show where Wonka tells Charlie that he was chosen because Charlie is 'Good and honest and kind," explains Anderson. "That bit always gets me because not only is Charlie good and honest and kind, and we've found the amazing actors to be good and honest and kind as we've seen them grow up, but to get through the show which honestly has a lot to it to distil it down to the idea that you don't have to be perfect, you just have to be good and honest and kind is very nice. As performers we also know that one moment can change your life. Charlie gets the golden ticket and his whole life changes, and we know that getting just one role can completely alter the things you do and where you live and the way you see yourself. The whole show means a lot to us."

"The element of your life changing definitely comes through for me," said Maunder. "Mrs Bucket tries to stop Charlie dreaming too big but then has to reach a point where she realizes that Charlie is a dreamer like his father was. That's the point in the show where life for Charlie starts getting better, and it's always important to know that life can get better from wherever you are."

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is playing at Crown Theatre until November 28th, including matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and an AUSLAN interpreted performance on November 25th. Tickets and more information available at Crown Perth. If you plan to visit, be sure to check out the may special menu items available around the Crown complex.

Photos thanks to Bec Windsor and the Gordon Frost Organisation.