All sugar, no spice

charlieThere once lived a towering creative genius with the power to change children’s lives, who believed in both embracing the euphoria of silliness and relishing the very nasty consequences of natural justice.

That statement applies to Willy Wonka, beloved titan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but also to his inventor, Roald Dahl, who claimed that there was no difference between his children’s books and his unpleasant-twist-in-the-tail stories for adults; in both, humour and heart are derived from the struggle for survival in his deliciously dark view of the world. Unfortunately, the new, sickly-sweet West End musical adaptation of his most famous work is missing that vital ingredient.

Unlike the award-laden, gloriously anarchic Matilda, which Charlie has the misfortune to follow, this is a terribly po-faced affair. Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly did benefit from inheriting a protagonist who is as much revolutionary leader as she is bookworm, but they also found innovative theatrical ways of dramatising her inner life and letting her drive the story.

Charlie, by contrast, is even more irritatingly upbeat goodie-two-shoes here than on paper, more likely to croon that the sun will come out tomorrow than that you might need to be a little bit naughty. Book writer David Greig retains Dahl’s strong moral fable, but fails to get around the problem of Charlie’s passivity; rather than earning his eventual victory, it comes to him through astonishing luck and persistent inaction. Regrettably, a climactic Wonka song emphasises Charlie’s shortcomings when he celebrates “all the things you aren’t that make you what you are”.

Read my full Bargain Theatreland review here

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2 Responses to All sugar, no spice

  1. peter swain says:

    Ouch – but all the crits seem to agree

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