Posted 19 June 2013 - 06:27 PM
I caught the matinee this afternoon. Pretty full house, mainly consisting of school groups (shock horror). And Sam Mendes’ secondary school art teacher, who was sat next to me. So, here are my thoughts, which, given the nature of this thread, will contain spoilers.
This won’t become a classic. I think there are possibly two, maybe three, original songs which if I heard them a few more times would be memorable. The rest are bland and forgettable. There a no recurring themes, nothing to tie them together. The styles are v random. Mind you, the notes on the score a v random too. No good melodies. Also, it’s very much a story of two parts- Charlie’s house beneath the bridge, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It reminded a lot of The Wizard of Oz in its construction; shift from a dull reality to a magical fantasy. But unfortunately here we’re spending too much time in the dull reality. It’s the whole of the first act. The TV set idea, where Charlie and his family see the different golden ticket winners, is a good one. There’s some brilliant characterisation there. But it’s all too static. The TV box restrains them. I was longing for massive song and dance numbers. Peter Darling can do those, very very well. But here they’re lacking considerably.
The opening is nice. A short film, illustrated by Quentin Blake, on the making of chocolate. It’s witty and doesn’t outstay its welcome. I read on here that it goes on for 5mins +. This afternoon is was no longer than 3mins. But then Act One is static. There’s a bit of business involving beds and dancing grandparents, and it’s entertaining enough. And then the TV sequence, which as I’ve said already, should be full stage. That said, the individual settings are neatly designed, and changed v quickly. Loved Gloop esp. The business with Charlie and his aerial wasn’t carried all the way through. At the sat his TV wouldn’t work unless he held it up in the exact position. Later on, it worked fine when it was left on the floor. Minor niggle, but it jarred with me.
When Charlie doesn’t get his ticket first time is a good anti-climax . We do feel for him. And I liked the business with the opera-goers getting ripped off buying chocolate and then dropping the money. Is that in the book or film(s)? And then he gets the ticket and does a little reprise of his earlier song. Wonka (dressed as Fagin) watching him from a telephone box was a nice touch. But then we want a big number with the sweet-shop lady and others…. opera people back maybe? ...leading up to a sudden silence as he reveals it to his family, and then bursting out in song and dance again. Instead we get a slow song by Grandpa Joe. It’s a let-down. Also, I’d have loved a number earlier on with people of the town buying all the chocolate on Earth- a real frenzy. We see the odd projected photo of massive crates of the stuff, but I yearned for them to make something big from it.
The end of Act One outside the factory gates has a nice business with the red carpet, but then the song – again – brings it down. Loved the projections in the windows. In fact, Jon Driscoll’s projections throughout were v effective. Forgot to mention the mother/father song, and the snow storm. Nicely staged.
So end of Act One is a bit of a downer. Thankfully Act Two is far far pacier. It’s visually impressive, though there was something slightly fake and manufactured about it. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it lacked the suggestiveness and organic feel of Matilda. Gloop up the tube well done (fountain was nice…. was expecting something awful though after comments on here!). And similarly Veruca’s squirrel scene was excellent. The best number in the whole show I think. Superb staging, and a reasonably catchy song. Teevee’s TV shrinkage v effective, was less keen on Violet’s bubblegum explosion. Inflatable costume good, but then she turns into this mirror ball which I was hoping would fly up with additional mirrorballs around the auditorium, but it fell a bit flat.
The Oompa Loompas were nicely done, even though occasionally I could see their operators. Allowed for some great acrobatics. Loved the scene where they sit on the giant tubes and we see Gloop through the windows. And the other Loompa-types kept things interested. At the very end, we saw a Loompa running across the stage. Was that a dwarf??
The zooming around the factory was a good way of covering the scene changes. Less keen on the boat… the river was blue. I wanted chocolate!
I’d forgotten about Charlie not getting the lifetime supply, so that was a nice twist. And lovely little scene with Charlie at the notebook, with the various projections (Blake again) on the back wall. And then we get Pure Imagination. Though the most memorable tune (partly because we know it already), it’s too quiet for the elevator sequence. You can hear the hydraulics.
The elevator is essentially a tardis, in shape and colour. Fitted with bright blue neon tubing. And it floats up and (sort of) out over the audience. Hard to tell how far out it went from where I was sitting. You couldn’t see any supports, boom arm or wires, so in that sense it’s very effective. But it didn’t have that magical feeling of, say, Mary Poppins flying out. Partly because it’s not quite the end, also because there’s no spine tingling music. It’s Pure Imagination, which really should’ve come a bit earlier and then it flies out.
The ending with the family is nice, liked the Loompas in the various boxes. But it should’ve been bigger, a real celebration. But, I was moved as Charlie put on a mini-Wonka uniform. I had a tear in my eye, so it did something. And the very end put me in mind of the end of the Cameron Mackintosh revival of Oliver!, originally directed by….. Sam Mendes. Fagin (Wonka), a lone figure on the stage, backlit. And then the unexpected twist.,… he collapses, leaving just his costume. Couldn’t tell how that was done. The only trick which I didn’t work out.
So, what of the cast? Douglas Hodge is an interesting choice for Wonka, and, in the most part, he pulls it off. He’s a weird character - can’t figure him out. But he’s not all nice, that’s for sure. There’s a real sense of arrogance in him. Nigel Planer does a good job of Grandpa Joe, though he could look older. And a couple of the parents really stand out: Jasna Ivir as Mrs Gloop, and Iris Roberts as Mrs Teevee. But the kids steal it. And I’m not just saying that because they’re kids. Tom Klenerman really does make you feel for Charlie, but, like Oliver!, the titular role is not the best part. The 4 other kids have got the best job, and I was particularly impressed with Ellie Simons as Veruca Salt. She was sensationally good. Had that brattish
twat girl down to a tee.
So it’s no classic. And it’s no Matilda- the inevitable comparison. But despite my moanings above, it’s worth seeing. It’ll run at the Lane (which looks absolutely beautiful FoH now, well done Lloyd Webber) for a couple of years I guess. Will be interesting to see what the critics make of it next week.