First night: Sam Mendes' Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a skilful confection, but leaves you wanting more

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Who, in their right mind, would choose to be an Oompa-Loompa - part of what is effectively a sweet-toothed slave-labour force? Still, they are full of vim, ingeniously created (a hectic hybrid of human and puppet), and, in one number, they roller-skate about like crazy and thus can be included in the more successful aspects of this much-anticipated stage musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Sam Mendes' big-budget production has opened after a whole month of previews and in the daunting wake of Matilda, that other Dahl-derived musical that is still riding high in the West End and on Broadway. Comparisons, invidious and otherwise, are inevitable. 

In some ways, you could argue that the makers of Matilda had it easier. The story of the pint-sized prodigy's battle with her repellent parents and sadistic headmistress has the kind of dynamic emotional conflict that people of all ages can identify with. 

By contrast, Charlie begins and ends as the soul of unselfish sweetness and light. His family are so docile in their destitution that they make the Cratchits of A Christmas Carol look like hardened Communists. And there's never any doubt that Charlie will pass Willy Wonka's test or that the Golden Ticket-holding brats will eliminate themselves through their greed and sense of entitlement.

This musical version is certainly blessed in its leading performers. As the enigmatic chocolatier, the brilliant Douglas Hodge is more school of Gene Wilder (from the 1971 film) than of Johnny Depp who seemed to be channelling Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Anna Wintour in his freaky portrayal for Tim Burton in 2005. 

Leaving everyone guessing about his sanity, Hodge's Wonka is a wonderfully unstable cross between a visionary with a screw loose and a Prospero-like figure with a serious game-plan and a yearning to retire. He delivers a master-class in comic timing as he tosses off complicated patter-songs with a quiet, almost insolently negligent ease and takes the little horrors on a continually wrong-footing tour of his factory's wacky marvels. 

These are evoked here via the technical wizardry of whooshing computer graphics, hydraulic lifts and a Mark Thompson set on which the chocolate waterfall resembles a heavily sweating Curly Wurly bar. You won't be disappointed with how they achieve the grisly come-uppance of the poisonous poppets. 

It's in the nature of the story, though, that Wonka makes a dramatically delayed entry.  This means that, for the first half of Mendes' production, we are largely marooned in the Dickensian shack of the Bucket family with its quartet of bed-ridden Beckettian grandparents. 

At the performance I saw, Jack Costello's adorable portrayal of Charlie suffused the proceedings with a lovely sense of the boy's pining purity. But the best bits of this rather static stretch are our initial glimpses of the brats.

Wittily updated, they appear in a giant TV that's like a stage-within-a-stage. The bubble-gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde has been reconceived as a Britain's Got Talent-style rapper replete with grovelling entourage; Mike Teavee is a computer-games maniac etc.

The score by the Hairspray combo of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman is tuneful and wholly unmemorable (the only song you come out humming is “Pure Imagination” the captivating Newley/Bricusse number borrowed from the 1971 film). But it rises to a nicely mischievous wit with the yodelling Germanic Gloop family and with Iris Roberts's hilarious Mrs Teavee, a delectable throwback to the suburban 1950s, who sings that “Medication set us free/One pill for Mike and two for me”.

Peter Darling's choreography offers an attractive mix of East End knees-up and synchronised Oompa-Loompa antics but the glorious finale with Charlie now kitted out as a mini-Wonka who mirrors his mentor's zazzy, off-centre motions makes you wish there were more of it. Very engaging but rarely elating, this show is a skillful confection that doesn't quite produce the inspired sugar-rush of magic that's required.      

Booking to May 31 2014; 0844 871 8810

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower