REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Birmingham Hippodrome

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a musical based on the 1964 children's novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, with book by David Greig, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The show premiered in the West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in June 2013 and ran for 3 years and 7 months before closing on 7 January 2017. Receiving mixed reviews from critics, the show won two Laurence Olivier Awards in 2014 for Best Costume Design and Best Lighting Design. The show ran for almost nine months on Broadway and has toured both in America and Australia before the current UK tour kicked off at the end of last year.

It tells the story of Charlie Bucket, who finds one of five golden tickets and earns a trip to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. However, beyond the gates Charlie and the other winners discover more than just remarkable edible delights. As they embark on an extraordinary journey through Willy Wonka’s marvellous mind, they soon learn that nobody leaves the same way that they arrived.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most well loved stories from one of the UK's most revered children’s authors. Roald Dahl's work is the stuff of legend so there was immediately high expectation for what would emerge on stage. It's also incredibly easy to compare the production to one of Dahl's other infamous stories - Matilda - which has gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon. Charlie is a very different show to Matilda, but that's not altogether a bad thing.

First thing's first - the set, and in particular the shows use of projection, is spellbinding. The world Dahl created for Wonka's factory was extrovert, loud and eccentric; and almost impossible to recreate accurately with physical props. Instead, cleaver use of video allowed for smooth transition between rooms of the factory and made way for various machines (and elevators!) to take centre stage. The score is a beautiful mix of contemporary pop-esque numbers and beautiful ballads, no forgetting the compulsory 'Pure Imagination' which became a sway-along hit with all ages.

One thing that's instantly noticeable is the mix of genders playing the led role of Charlie Bucket. Whilst the character was originally conceived as a young boy, the decision was made by the creative team to have a 50/50 split between boys and girls for this tour, a choice which was well received. Jessie-Lou Harvie played Charlie this evening and proved herself to be a stunning actor and an equally brilliant vocalist. Alongside Michael D'Cruze as Grandpa Joe, the duo had a tangible chemistry that gave a real sense of credibility to their performance.

Special mention, of course, has to go to Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka. Taking on a marmite part, there is no real middle ground - such is the love for the character, you'll either love an interpretation...or hate it. In this instance, it was out and out love - Snook's grasp of the level of eccentricity that's required, but without overdoing it, is commendable and his vocals for Pure Imagination were stunning. His comedic timing and delivery of one liners was spot on and evoked a response from the audience that validated his skill as a performer.

Whilst there are definitely some areas of the show I feel hit the mark more than others, the source material is good, the costumes are beautiful and the cast slick and well rehearsed. If you're a Roald Dahl fan and, in particular, a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, then you'll have a brilliant night out, no question's asked.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plays at Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 5th November. For more information, or to get your tickets, head online to

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