Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Roger Crow, September 2023
It was 2012, and just as Sam Mendes had delivered the most lucrative 007 movie of all time, many were wondering what the genius director was going to do next.
The answer was be the creative force behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical, a feelgood interpretation of the beloved story about an impoverished youngster, a bunch of spoiled brats, and a chocaholic industrialist who opens his factory doors to a handful of lucky youths and their guardians.
It almost feels redundant explaining the set-up for one of the greatest kids’ stories ever written; a tale which most youngsters will read at the earliest opportunity, and whose characters stay with them a lifetime.
I had planned on seeing the West End version one day, but somehow a decade passed between its debut on the world stage and now. Thankfully when I get the invite to see the new version at Hull New Theatre, it feels like a meta version of the show’s story.
“Victorian-influenced mecha heaven”
Rocking up at the stage door a little over an hour before curtain-up, myself and a handful of lucky theatregoers are shown around backstage, at the array of wigs, costumes and props. Suddenly after months of hearing about the Hull version, my creative juices are flowing like one of Wonka’s oversized fructose-gizmos.
I never realised how much I needed to see a version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seemingly inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but here it is in all its glory with a set so gloriously steampunk, I feel like I’ve died and gone to Victorian-influenced mecha heaven. The Bucket residence is there in its beautifully shabby glory; there’s a barrow full of Wonka bar wrappers, and what looks like a Jules Verne-inspired diving bell.
So, at a little after 7pm, the show begins, and on one of the hottest days of the year, the saga unfolds. Every member of the cast is on top form, and those random props in context suddenly make perfect sense, slotting together like some enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Structurally it’s spot on. The first act is a preamble to the factory tour, and there’s a real frisson of excitement when Charlie (Haydn Court) inevitably finds that golden ticket, as well there should be. By the time we meet Willy Wonka (Gareth Snook), he seems a little on the backfoot when he arrives on stage and doesn’t get a round of applause straight away. (In this neck of the woods, performers have to earn their right to applause rather than get it in advance).
The lead-up to that first act curtain-closer is spot on, leaving us on tenterhooks to see what’s inside the factory, and of course leaving us hungry for more from Wonka himself.
“Old school effects”
Personally, I’d have wanted Tim Minchin to play that role and write all the music and lyrics, but there are some real gems scattered throughout the show, and not just old-school classics like ‘Pure Imagination’ and the ‘Candyman’. Strike That, ‘Reverse It’ is a new personal favourite, though I could have done with a slow-motion version as many of the lyrics are belted out so fast, it feels like a podcast on fast forward.
There are some cracking illusions too, especially when Wonka’s torchlight illuminates the stage. I’ll not give too much away, but even old-school effects, like Mike Teavee’s date with televisual destiny is laugh-out-loud funny when he emerges back into the real world. I haven’t laughed that much in the theatre since Neil Hurst stole the show on the same stage in panto last year.
I love the fact elements of the book, the original Gene Wilder movie and the Tim Burton revamp were melded together, and also like the fact it hasn’t been updated. So there’s no sly references to mobile phones, social media or today’s superstars; it has one foot in now, and one foot in some sort of Victorian-era alt-1970s.
For a guy in his fifties, I’m not the most ideal demographic for a show like this, so I brought along an old friend and his kids, Sophie and Alex, to get their opinion on what to me was a must-see. Would the youngsters relate to the timeless story in an age of social media?
What was your favourite bit?
Sophie: I think the glass elevator when they’re flying. And the effects were good, especially when they’re in the factory.
Alex: Yeah, and when they were in the elevator and when it was moving off and shaking.
Have you got a favourite song?
Sophie: Probably ‘Pure Imagination.’
Alex: Yeah, that’s probably my favourite song in the entire musical.
Would you recommend it to your friends?
Sophie: Yeah, 100 per cent.
Alex: Yeah, it’s just an amazing show!
I did wonder if the (approx) 150-minute run time would be too long, but, like that glass elevator at the finale, it just flies by, and while all of the cast are terrific, it’s Gareth Snook and Haydn Court who inevitably get the standing ovation they deserve as the stars of the show. It’s visually stunning, very funny, and often very touching.
Do whatever you can to grab your own (non-golden) ticket, and remind yourself how great live theatre can be.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical – Hull New Theatre until September 16, 2023
images: Johan Persson