All rather underwhelming - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the Southampton stage

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical, The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until September 3. Credit: Johan Persson
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical, The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until September 3. Credit: Johan Persson

Gareth Snook is the perfect Willy Wonka, cruel, kind, charismatic, funny and ferocious as he leads his bunch of Golden Ticket winners around his factory.

But not even Snook can conjure the magic that Roald Dahl’s classic tale absolutely cries out for – and which the book simply oozes.

If you were lucky enough to have read it as a child, you will remember being completely glued to the page, totally taken in by the crazy, bonkers world Dahl creates. But really there’s not a lot of that here.

The first half is oddly static and slightly laborious as the Golden Ticket winners are assembled. Obviously it doesn’t help that the grandparents, famously, are stuck in bed throughout. But there’s no lift from the music either.

The production features the most memorable songs from the original 1970’s film (The Candy Man and Pure Imagination). The rest are all-new numbers from the multi award-winning songwriters of Hairspray… who were sadly having an off day. None are stand-out and too many of the lyrics are lost in a delivery which consistently simply isn’t clear enough.

And then things perk up. Just before the end of the first half, Willy Wonka appears and immediately takes everything to a new level – as indeed he continues to do in the second half. But again, the staging lets him and everyone down.

This is an extraordinary, unbelievable realm we are going into. You sit there hoping for dazzling special effects. Instead you get endless video projections. Some are pretty and some are effective but the net result is less to transport us, more to leave us with the impression that the production didn’t quite get the budget it wanted or needed. You think of the fabulous sets we have seen in Southampton recently. My Fair Lady is obviously the outstanding one. This is nowhere near.

Again, you think back to the gripping, all-encompassing, page-turning experience of reading the book as a child. This is all sadly rather lame in comparison. The nut-sorting squirrels are nicely done, and the demise of Mike Teevee is clever, but the projections flatten everything when really it needs to soar. The final ten minutes are sweet and touching; but all in all, despite everyone’s best efforts, there just isn’t enough life, enough spark or enough imagination flowing through any of this.

However, our Charlie tonight, Harmony Raine Riley certainly gave a lovely performance and is certainly one to watch.