Sam Mendes’ vision of Roald Dahl’s classic tale follows family film-to-stage smash
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Wizard Of Oz
to the West End - but is the
director's confection a sweet treat?
It's certainly an inventive, opulent and colourful production, bringing the magic of Willy Wonka’s factory alive to audiences of excited kids and adults alike, as Douglas Hodge and the cast deliver a intermittently enchanting romp with infectious good will and verve. While the second half delights, the first half feels slow and slight - focusing heavily on Charlie Bucket’s life of poverty with his bedridden grandparents (lifted only by the clever Golden Ticket winner reveals), and delaying the Wonka Factory cornucopia until after the interval (and many nippers' bedtime!).
But once we get to through those factory doors in act two things really start take off. Greedy children get sucked up pipes, carried off by man-sized dancing squirrels and shrunk down to size via TV. The Oompa-Loompas also arrive via some creative puppetry, adding some extra zip and providing some delightful, delicious moments.
Hodge brings a charismatic, yet creepy edge to the shady Mr Wonka, while Nigel Planer adds a jovial quality to Grandpa Joe and the child stars (different actors on each night) acquit themselves well, despite some fast-moving, tongue-twisting lyrics.
The new songs may not be as memorable as those from the fondly remembered 1971 film with Gene Wilder (though the classic 'Pure Imagination' made the cut), but there is great warmth for the source material, and enough fun along the way to make this a sweetie worth unwrapping.