Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Her Majesty’s) – theatre review

Willy Wonka’s magic carpet ride hits town with its world of wonder and make-believe.

Photo: Jeff Busby

Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel of the same name, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the story of a boy from an impoverished family who’s obsessed with sweets. He’s Charlie Bucket and he lives with his mother and four bed-ridden grandparents in a decrepit shack. Willy Wonka runs a legendary chocolate factory, which Charlie would dearly love to visit. The latter daydreams and learns about a competition in which five special golden tickets have been hidden inside chocolate bars that bear the Wonka name. Those lucky enough to find them will be gifted a factory tour and a lifetime supply of candy.

With money in short supply, Charlie’s chances fade quickly, but that all changes with an errant $1 note left lying on the floor of a local candy shop (run by Wonka in disguise). Suddenly Wonka’s world opens up to Charlie (and his grandpa Joe), where all is not what it seems to be on first appearances. In fact, it is heaven on a stick, especially for a youngster full of ideas, although a sticky fate awaits the other winners.

My favourite moment in the show was  the appearance of the diminutive Oompa Loompas, Wonka’s pint-sized workers. The theatrical way they’re realised in this production is magical and you can’t take your eyes of all 10 … and then 16 of them. Equally impressive is the reveal of Wonka’s sugar-filled utopia, where everything is edible but there are traps. The sets are, dare I say it, delightful eye candy.

Five boys aged between 10 and 13 share the pivotal role of Charlie Bucket. On opening night it was 12-year-old Lenny Thomas who confidently strutted his stuff and delighted all. Paul Slade Smith, who was Grandpa George in the original Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, appears as numero uno in Melbourne. He is the boss dog Willy Wonka and has a wonderful, seemingly effortless flair about him.

Photo: Jeff Busby

Two other pivotal roles go to a couple of Australia’s most popular performers. Tony Sheldon, who won the 2019 Helpmann Award for Best Support Acting for his turn as Grandpa Joe, shows us what all the fuss was about. Sheldon is best known for playing the role of Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert upwards of 2,000 times in Australia and abroad. Charlie’s kind and caring mother Mrs Bucket is realised by Lucy Maunder, who was Cynthia Weil in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Miss Honey in Matilda: The Musical.

The 28-strong cast ensure they give the audience a wow of a time.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is full of fun, fantasy and flair – a family treat which is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne until 3 November 2019.

Alex First

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