Reviews/Musical Theatre

The achocolypse is here

8 November 2021

The musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has rolled into town and Rosalind Appleby and junior reviewer Saskia Haluszkiewicz are captivated by its vibrant energy and special effects.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Crown Theatre, John Frost for Crossroads Live, Warner Bros Theatre Ventures, Langley Park productions and Neal Street Productions ·
Crown Theatre, 7 November 2021 ·

Roald Dahl’s 1967 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has stood the test of time and been reworked over the decades as two films (1971, 2005) and a musical (2013).

The Broadway musical, directed by Jack O’Brien, received its Australian premiere in 2019 and after a COVID hiatus reopened in Brisbane in September before coming to Perth. It mixes heart-tugging songs with gobsmacking spectacle to capture the story of the poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket and his adventure in Willy Wonka’s mind-bending Chocolate Factory.

The show opens with Dickensian old-world charm: Charlie and his family wear brightly-patched knitwear and eat cabbage soup while outside snow falls softly. Grandpa Joe drops the occasional Australian colloquialism and his references to Ned Kelly, Burke and Wills and the Eureka Stockade draw laughs.

For the other four golden ticket holders, however, the digital revolution has erupted. Mike Teavee is a gamester who cyber hacks himself a golden ticket, while the bubblegum-eating Violet is an Instagram celebrity the “Queen of Pop”.  As Willy Wonka says “you have to believe it to see it”.

Three people wearing grey wigs perch in a bed, in front of them a woman, man and a boy dance
The Bucket family celebrate after Charlie discovers a golden ticket in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Photo supplied

The cast are consistently excellent, with Stephen Anderson obviously enjoying himself as a quirky (but not scarily) eccentric Willy Wonka. Robert Grubb is all loveable enthusiasm as Grandpa Joe (and sings magnificently) and Lucy Maunder is an elegant and motherly Mrs Bucket.

The role of Charlie is shared between Charlie Dunn, Cooper Matthews, Phineaus Knickerbocker and Flynn Nowlan. In the matinee on 7 November Nowlan is an animated and endearingly humble preteen Charlie, singing and dancing his way through the production with apparent ease.

Jaxon Graham Wilson is the yodelling, sausage-eating Augustus Gloop who takes a swim in the chocolate river, Karina Russell is en pointe as the spoilt ballet dancer Veruca, Tarisai Vushe is all sass as Violet the Queen of Pop who bites off more than she can chew, and Taylor Scanlan is deliciously nasty as Mike Teavee. 

Music director David Piper and band deliver tightly coordinated energy from the pit. Josh Bergasse’s choreography is sharp and vibrant and – along with Mark Thompson’s cleverly sliding set design – is well adapted to the Crown Theatre. Watch out for some spectacular tricks including an inflating outfit for Violet and a paper plane stunt that will leave your jaw on the floor. Jeff Sugg’s video design on digital screens framing the stage help create the magical scenes of the factory and take Mike Teevee’s disastrous video gaming adventure to another level. And let’s not forget the Oompa Loompas who – without giving anything away – are everything you could hope for.

What a delightful way to escape for a couple of hours. My tip is to take plenty of chocolate to satisfy the inevitable cravings.

Crown Theatre, 4 November 2021 ·
Review by Saskia Haluszkiewicz aged 11 ·

A boy wearing a scarf and beanie stands in a sweet shop holding aloft a bar of chocolate
Flynn Nowlan is full of curiosity and wonder as Charlie Bucket. Photo supplied

The musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory burst onto the stage at Crown with a riot of colour and wonderfully vibrant choreography. As a well-known book by the much-loved author, Roald Dahl, many people in the audience will be familiar with the story and the musical was faithful to the author’s creation. It captured the attention of everyone with its bright and colourful set and costumes and captivating music and lyrics (Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman).

On opening night the energetic performer Flynn Nowlan played Charlie Bucket as a boy full of curiosity and a sense of wonder. Stephen Anderson’s Willy Wonka was wild and kooky, just as we all imagined. All the cast had great fun with their roles. A couple of standouts for me were the Gloops (Octavia Barron Martin and Jaxon Graham Wilson) whose comedy thoroughly entertained the audience, and Veruca Salt (Karina Russell) with her terrific ballet dancing and comedy skills.

One of the most exciting aspects of the production is the design. Mark Thompson created a clever use of foreground, mid ground and background in the staging. His innovative ideas include, for example, the grandparents’ bed in Charlie’s house which had a steam punk feel that corresponded with Willy Wonka’s factory. The costumes were colourful and fun. The combination of puppets and performers for the Oompa Loompas was particularly clever and memorable. The video projections (Jeff Sugg) and the sound design (Andrew Keister) both added much to the production. And we must mention the special effects; the flying paper plane will long be remembered by the audience.

This story is wonderfully imaginative but has its darker moments. I would recommend it for upper primary and older.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues until 28 November 2021.

Pictured top: Stephen Anderson as Willy Wonka, giving the children a tour of the Chocolate Factory. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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