'Not a Golden Ticket': Underwhelming reviews greet Sam Mendes' Charlie And The Chocolate Factory


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The Independent Culture

The launch of the new family West End production Charlie And The Chocolate Factory falls short of real magic, according to mixed opening night reviews.

Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes is at the helm of the highly-anticipated musical at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane which opened last night.

Based on the much loved children's book by Roald Dahl, the show features all new songs and music, along with spectacular set and costume designs recreating the world of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Despite some underwhelming reviews, the production still managed to be awarded at least three stars by most critics with Douglas Hodge receiving praise for his performance as Willy Wonka.

The Independent's Paul Taylor gave the show four stars and - although he applauded the leading performers - he concluded that it "doesn't quite produce the inspired sugar-rush of magic that's required".

Quentin Letts gave the show three stars in his review for the Daily Mail after it failed to "melt" his heart.

"The first half was as slow as cold treacle and most of the songs -which include an ironic techno-beat number - are duds.

"On the positive side we can enter clever special effects (a good gag with a shrunken child) and a much better second half."

However Michael Billington in the Guardian praised the West End's latest addition, giving it four stars and crediting Mendes for "masterminding a lavish bonanza of a musical".

Critics inevitably compared the show with Matilda, the other Roald Dahl production running in the West End, but Libby Purves for The Times said the newest musical did not leave her with the same feeling of wanting to "rush back".

Hodge stars as eccentric factory boss Willy Wonka, while the cast also includes former Young Ones star Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe, and young newcomer Jack Costello as Charlie Bucket.

Roald Dahl's daughter Lucy revealed Costello is the son of her father's favourite nurse who cared for him at the end of his life.

She said: "It's another reason that makes tonight very special for us. It's like he's (Dahl) watching. How else could that have happened?"

The story sees Charlie become one of the few lucky children to find a Golden Ticket and win a tour of the top secret sweet factory, run by the Oompa-Loompas. He is joined by greedy boy Augustus Gloop, a spoiled brat named Veruca Salt, a record-breaking gum chewer named Violet Beauregarde, and gaming addict Mike Teavee.

Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Barbara Windsor were among the stars who attended the opening night.

Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick brought their son James Wilkie to see the show, but left their young twin daughters at home.

Barbara Windsor said: "The West End is such a wonderful place and it should have shows that families can enjoy together. It's wonderful."

The show features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Grammy winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman , a book by award-winning playwright and adaptor David Greig, set and costume designs by Mamma Mia!'s Mark Thompson and choreography by Matilda's Peter Darling.