Whether it’s the Roald Dahl book, the 1971 film or the Johnny Depp remake, everyone has a memory of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I loved all three versions throughout my childhood, so upon hearing that a musical adaptation was heading to Canterbury, I was excited to see how this new retelling would unfold.
It’s a family show introducing a whole new generation to Willy Wonka’s fantastical chocolate factory, so it makes sense that there were a few tweaks for a 2023 audience - including sign language being seamlessly incorporated by the actors into much of the dialogue.
The story itself, however, remained largely unchanged - it is a classic, after all.
Charlie Bucket, played in this performance by Amelia Minto, and the Bucket family open the show in their humble home, all four grandparents comically crammed into one bed in true Roald Dahl fashion.
Amelia played the character with such endearing likability, not to mention a cracking voice, that we found ourselves instantly drawn into Bucket family life.
The first act was relatively stark, with the exception of each golden ticket winner’s musical numbers, which only amplified the beauty and magic of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory just after the interval.
The kooky chocolatier was played by Gareth Snook with all of the whimsy and weirdness that fans would expect, particularly drawing on Gene Wilder’s timeless performance.
What added to the brilliantly bizarre world of Willy Wonka was all of the tricks that he, quite literally, pulled out of his hat.
We watched Violet Beauregarde turn into a blueberry and Mike Teavee shrink down inside a television before our eyes, all the while colourful lollipops appeared out of nowhere and exploding bon-bons scattered all over the floor.
It added a genuine sense of wonder and helped create a world where anything really did seem possible.
This was made even more awe-inspiring by the use of screens throughout the show.
I’m usually a fan of real sets over screen-based ones, but this show managed to find a great balance between the two.
The screens gave another dimension to the performance, taking us on a trip down a chocolate river and whizzing through the many floors of the factory - things that would have been difficult to bring to life with static scenery.
The score was mostly made up of fun, original numbers, but we were treated to a touching rendition of Pure Imagination that had the kids captivated and the parents welling up.
It was a theatre filled with young families which meant lots of rustling of sweets bags and people taking their little ones to the loo, but there’s something quite charming about hearing kids laugh out loud and whisper things like “Mummy, that’s Willy Wonka!” as they immerse themselves in the story.
The best thing about this extraordinary show is that it reminds us that imagination and creativity are things to be cherished, and what better place to do that than at the theatre?
The true sign that the show had been a hit was that everyone flooded out of the packed auditorium smiling like kids in a candy store - or should I say chocolate factory?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury until Saturday, June 3. You can book tickets online here.
You can also book tickets by calling 01227 787787.