“I am the maker of music, the dreamer of dreams!”
Once said Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which can also been seen illuminating the streets of London’s West End. Strap yourself in for a hectic ride of colour, laughter, amazement and a fair share of draw-dropping moments, as Sam Mendes’s stage adaptation perfectly captures the vibrant mood the book establishes. A lot of this is generated by a smart use of stage tricks that will have you asking yourself “how on earth did they do that?” and the characters add a slightly more ‘adult’ feel that’s reflected on the story.
Earlier this year the third man to step into the purple velvet jacket of Willy Wonka is Jonathan Slinger, whose crazed and eccentric personality is one I’m sure Roald Dahl envisioned when creating the character. He becomes a breathe of fresh air throughout Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s non impactful melodies, as at times you sit and wonder when that big musical number will come. Whilst the songs are good at best (a few days later you’ll probably find yourself forgetting most of them), the real hit comes at the end of the show as the only survivor from the 1971 film Pure Imagination , makes you realise that the show missed more of these ‘show defying’ melodies.
Slinger provides a creepy, excited, scary, sweet and humerus type of person all mixed within one colourful man, which is perfect for the character he portrays. Wonka doesn’t treat us to his devilish funny dialogue until just before the end of the first half of the musical, meaning that the heavy investment into Charlie and his families existence living in the slums does feel a little drawn out. The creativeness of the set provides most of the excitement in the first half, as we are treated to a giant TV set airing news bulletins of the lucky golden ticket winners.
Mark Thompson’s clever set design takes it to the next level once we are inside the chocolate factory. Imagine a painter pouring every single colour he has in his collection and then throwing it all over the page creating a bright, vibrant final piece. This is the feeling you get throughout the second half, as we share the same excitement of the lucky golden ticket winners not knowing what could possibly be waiting for us in the next room.
All the sets provide a ‘wow’ moment, from Oompa Loompa’s running argumentative robots to a team of signing and dancing squirrels as they separate the good nuts from the bad. How does the old saying go? Save the best till last? Well, that’s exactly what Thompson has done, providing an elegant and inspirational backdrop to the first touching moment shared by Wonka and Charlie.
Though the show does little to explore the back story of Willy Wonka, Slinger brings an affectionate and humanised version of a crazy, and at times, psychotic type character. It’s because of this we truly believe and feel the bond between him and young Charlie Bucket.