‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ was saccharine.
After a successful run at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre and Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2019, QPAC in association with John Frost, has finally brought this sugary sweet piece north and covered Brisbane in confectionery. Despite delays due to COVID-19, the audience were ready and raring to go, congratulating the opening night performance with a standing ovation.
The original story of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ follows a young boy born into poverty who, above all else, is kind and generous, despite his situation. Through happenchance he wins a Golden Ticket, allowing him to tour the nearby Chocolate Factory run by a mysterious Willy Wonka. Throughout the tour children are treated questionably, potentially dying, and Charlie wins the prize – ownership of the remnants of the Industrial Revolution.
Unfortunately, just like the chocolate, the book and music were somewhat lacking in substance; appropriate for kids but no Rodgers and Hammerstein. At times, the musical felt like a parody of itself, with little light and shade, some odd choices in the removal of characters from the original plot, and a strange interpretation of the lead characters’ motives. There were some curious Australianisations made to the script and an awkward ambiguity in the time period, leaving audience members to use their imagination about the context of the story.
Technical direction, by Japhy Weideman and Jeff Suff, relied heavily on LED screens to produce the larger than life settings of the narrative. There were scenes when this was successful, such as the glass elevator scene and when Mike Teavee was morphed into a computerised version of himself. It would have been nice to see more tangible sets, designed by Mark Thompson in association with Nancy Thun, to give realism and to ground an otherwise digital musical.
Regardless, Thompson’s talent came to fruition in the Bucket Home and Chocolate Shop, and it would have been great to see more of this eclectic and engaging creation in the second act.
Costume design, also by Thompson in association with Rory Powers, was considered and appropriate; blending the styles of both films to create a familiar look for audiences. Highlights included Violet’s trio of popstar outfits, Mike Teavee and Mrs Teavee’s vintage meets tech attire, and Charlie’s final mini-Wonka suit.
Direction by Jack O’Brien, with associate Matt Lenz and resident Jeremy Stanford, had the majority of the action taking place in the direct centre or completely downstage. A lack of diversity in the use of stage may have been a result of the large LED screens. Some of O’Brien, Lenz and Stanford’s most crafted scenes including Mike Teavee’s magical transition into a miniature doll version of himself – pulled from the television by his mother – and Veruca Salt’s demise – being torn to shreds by giant squirrels. Some of the major plot points occurred off stage, meaning the show will someday be an excellent choice for community theatre groups and school musicals.
Fortunately, the choreography by Joshua Bergasse was strong, and the ensemble was tight. The opening dance number, and the Oompa Loompa routines were of high quality and carefully considered the puppetry and limited space.
In the leading role of Charlie Bucket, Flynn Nowlan played his part well. Other performances will see young Phineaus Knickerbocker, Cooper Matthews, and Edgar Stirling in the starring role. Stephen Anderson as Willy Wonka was the classical showman and had nice moments of quirk and humour.
One of the most engaging performers from the piece was Lucy Maunder as Mrs Bucket. Her vocals were clean and bold; her stage presence and reactions were sincere, and she interacted with her set in authentic ways. Similarly, Johanna Allen as Mrs Teavee and Taylor Scanlan as Mike Teavee were invested in their surroundings, and interacted believably.
Karina Russel as Veruca Salt gave the dance performance of the show, Tarisai Vushe as Violet Beauregard was the vocal standout, and Jaxon Graham Wilson as Augustus Gloop alongside Octavia Barron Martin as Mrs Gloop were hilarious as a duo.
Completing the cast were Robert Grubb as Grandpa Joe, Simon Russel as Mr Salt, and Madison McKoy as Mr Beauregard. The three gentlemen did well with the limited dialogue afforded to their characters. The ensemble filled numerous roles including townspeople, squirrels, and Oompa Loompas. Their high energy and strong dance ability were highlights of the show.
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ missed an opportunity to explore the deeper thematic statement of the original text, which asks children to consider what is most important – winning or being kind/putting family first. Nonetheless, QPAC and John Frost have done a good job to entertain Brisbane locals and give children an escape in an otherwise challenging time. Likely to be a sell-out, book fast to grab a golden ticket to this event!
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ performs until Saturday, 3 October 2021 at QPAC. For more information visit QPAC’s website.
Photos by Darren Thomas