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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Musical storytelling disappoints, but excellent performances compensate

Theatre: Show offers a golden ticket reinforcing seasonal message that goodness will be its own reward

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Despite recent controversies surrounding his books, the work of Roald Dahl continues to grow in popularity. A stage version of The Witches has just opened at the National Theatre in London, the film Wonka hits cinemas on Friday, and the 2013 musical based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is on tour throughout the UK and Ireland, receiving its Irish premiere at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this week.

With its confectionery themes and sweet rewards of moral goodness, the book is one of Dahl’s most popular – and any adaptation has to compete with the two filmed versions, as well as children’s own text-inspired versions. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical has big boots to fill.

From the opening moments, Simon Higlett’s design immerses us in an industrial landscape where the local dump opens up to reveal the delights of a sweet shop, and behind that again the dilapidated shack where Charlie (Isaac Sugden) lives with his loving family, headed by his mother, Mrs Bucket (Leonie Spilsbury), and Grandpa Joe (Michael D’Cruz).

The steampunk aesthetic comes into its own at the end of the first half, when the Wonka factory finally opens its doors and Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas appear to take care of the various ghastly children. Working under the direction of candyman Willy Wonka (Gareth Snook), they provide a sinister sense of foreboding as the underage terrors are whittled down one by one and Charlie is left to inherit Wonka’s confectionery kingdom.


Marc Shaiman’s music, with lyrics by Scott Whitman, fails to provide narrative momentum, although David Greig’s book does it best to hurry the action along. Another problem is that none of the songs are especially memorable, a fact reinforced by the use of two songs by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse from the 1971 film at key points in the drama.

If the musical storytelling is disappointing, the other elements more than compensate. The performances are excellent, and visually Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is a scrumdiddlyumptious affair. Thematically, the show offers a golden ticket that reinforces the seasonal message that goodness will be its own reward.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, until Sunday, January 7th

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer