There’s something of the fairytale about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, making it ideal festive family fare. In James Brining’s new production for Leeds Playhouse, the rags-to-riches element is highlighted, opening in a grey, junk-filled world in which Charlie is the one burst of colour. If any child deserves a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s famed chocolate factory, it’s this budding young inventor.
The show is a little slow to get going, but there’s plenty to like along the way. The lineup of other children who snag the golden tickets are deliciously grotesque, placed in stark contrast to the poor but kind Bucket family. There are particularly strong performances from Michael D’Cruze as Grandpa Joe and Leonie Spilsbury who plays two very different mothers: the loving Mrs Bucket and a harried, booze-swigging Mrs Teavee. Gareth Snook steals multiple scenes as Willy Wonka, managing to be enchanting, strange and sinister all at once.
The success of any adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book lies with the fantastical factory itself. Willy Wonka’s confectionery palace is – as the song written for the 1971 film version puts it – a world of pure imagination. But the second-act journey into this world, rendered through Simon Wainwright’s giant video projections, feels oddly flat. Like Mike Teavee, our attention is dominated by screens rather than captivated by the rough magic of theatricality.
Part of the joy of this tale is its emphasis on creativity and resourcefulness. Charlie delights in making something out of nothing, transforming junk into treasures. Brining’s production of the musical (by David Greig, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) could take a leaf out of its protagonist’s book by relying less on technology and more on our shared imagination.