Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Sydney Review @ Capitol Theatre

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'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' Image © Jeff Busby

Willy Wonka... What a wonderful invention.

Spawned by the imagination of children's writer Roald Dahl and spun into numerous adaptations including two renowned movies featuring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp, its latest reincarnation comes in the form of a stage musical. And what a treat that is.

For adults, it's a trip down memory lane laced with quirks and quips from the Gene Wilder days (though thankfully none of the curious daddy issues of Johnny Depp's interpretation) while for the next generation, it's a colour-filled emporium of sugar-coated dreams that just might come true.

The storyline is probably the first to turn purists' heads. Though relatively on-path, it's been modernised to allude to the changing face of the confectionery market and the prevalence of social media in our lives.

A suite of new songs have also been added to the bill. They accompany a peppering of hot favourites including 'Pure Imagination' and 'Candy Man' and flow like honey throughout the performance, executed with just the right amount of emotion to keep the audience applauding.

Other small deviations to particulars have been made, most likely to accommodate the transition from film to stage, but thankfully all have been Wonka-fied enough to render them exciting rather than unwanted for anyone familiar with the story.

Chocolate Factory JeffBusby
Image © Jeff Busby
Sadly the same can't be said for the set design which, while imaginative and fantastic, has been scaled back to a bare minimum. Perhaps the designers were hoping to leave it all up to the audience's imagination on this one but the reality is this cauldron is only half full of magic. Props feel two-dimensional and animations seem dated. There are even moments when the stage is completely barren, relying solely on the digital screens of the backdrop and the astute miming skills of the actors to carry the sequence along. It's a burden they shouldn't have to carry, but carry it they do.

Seasoned actor Paul Slade Smith leads this charge, playing Willy Wonka with a heavy smattering of charisma and a dash of eccentricity, making him likeable on all accounts. Tony Sheldon backs him up as Grandpa Joe with his impeccable comical timing while Lucy Maunder brings in a beautiful set of pipes, dance moves and motherly presence as Mrs Bucket. But all are given a decent run for their money with Charlie. He's played here (11 January) by 13-year-old Ryan Yeates who never misses a beat, never misses a note and is as professional on the stage as the next person.

He's only outmatched by the Oompa Loompas, who I have to admit were a highlight of the show. They're hilarious, well-choreographed and are every bit as right as they are wrong.

I'll leave the rest up to your (pure) imagination.

'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' plays Capitol Theatre until 19 May.


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