Charlie & the Chocolate Factory The Musical review: The A-choca-lypse comes to Sunderland Empire

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical runs at the Sunderland Empire until Sunday, August 13.

The Sunderland Empire has welcomed this whimsical production of a Roald Dahl classic and transformed its stage into a world that must be believed to be seen. Fans of the iconic 1970s film will instantly identify timeless classics such as ‘The Candy Man’ and ‘Pure Imagination’ while also being met with an array of new musical numbers.

We follow young aspiring inventor Charlie Bucket, played by Jessie-Lou Harvie, in her search to find one of five Golden Tickets which grant access to the revered chocolate factory of the confectionary genius, Willy Wonka. As we explore the factory and encounter new delightful wonders, each child’s flawed nature is emphasised and they face ghastly consequences of their actions.

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One of the standout elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical is its energetic cast, anchored by a confident lead performance from Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka. Snook’s portrayal infuses the character with a menacing aura while injecting humour into the performance through his witty line delivery. Snook often adopts an amusing physicality onstage, reminding the audience of the playfulness of his character which we see in the song ‘Strike That and Reverse It’.

Jessie-Lou Harvie is outstanding as Charlie and perfectly encapsulated the innocence and kind-hearted nature of the character. After showcasing her powerful and stunning vocals in the opening song ‘Almost Nearly Perfect’, she impressively maintains this exceptional quality throughout the entirety of her performance.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical runs at the Sunderland Empire until Sunday, August 13.Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical runs at the Sunderland Empire until Sunday, August 13.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical runs at the Sunderland Empire until Sunday, August 13. | Johan Persson

The comical pairing of charismatic news presenters Jerry (Ewan Gillies) and Cherry Sundae (Lydia Bradd) delivered a delightful blend of information and comedy while announcing the winners of the golden tickets with entertaining and often humorous results.

The same can be said for Christopher Howell and Emma Robotham-Hunt who donned hilarious father-daughter duo of Mr Salt and Veruca Salt - ’unlike the wart, which has 2 C’s’. The pair shined in comical songs such as ‘When Veruca says’ and ‘Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet’ depicting their amusing one-sided relationship.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory successfully delivered on classic theatrical elements from their creative and speedy set transitions to their colourfully coordinated costume designs for each character. Every family conveyed their own distinct energy ranging from the snobby, entitlement of the Salts’ to the energetic and exuberant nature of the Beauregardes’. Elements like this only added further comedy to Violet’s transition from human to blueberry.

Like any adaptation of Dahl’s, the success often lies within captivating fantasy it creates. However, my main reservation centres on the slow pace and repetitive structure of the first act, which leaves you waiting for the magic to unfold. Nonetheless, the second act manages to deliver some entertaining elements that redeem the overall experience and then some.

On the whole, the combination of outstanding performances, captivating set designs and enchanting visuals creates a joyous atmosphere that will have you reaching for a chocolate bar faster than you can say ‘oompa-loompa-doompety-do’.

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