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Camden Musical Society: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Review by Faith Jessel

Wow, what a night! Camden Musical Society knows exactly how to make their shows a glittering event.  After being warmly welcomed, the audience is ushered through the colourfully festooned foyer and along a red carpet, complete with velvet rope and paparazzi, finally entering a transformed civic hall, already humming with anticipation. The proscenium curtain is beautifully drenched in what is now universally recognised as ‘Wonka Purple’, a hint of what's to come. From then on the buzz never stops.  

Co-Directors Sophie Cornett and Isobel Holland present a whimsical and gleefully funny production, faithful in the flavour and twisted humour of the famous 1971 film, which was adapted from Roald Dahl's beloved book. The main message is timeless: good children like Charlie Bucket are rewarded for their kindness and deeds and bad children get their just desserts. For the adults, it's a lesson in how NOT to parent as well as dodge constant queries from kids about the lashings of innuendo that this show delivers so well. I smiled and laughed my way through the evening. 

Led by musical director Ian Buchanan, the orchestra executes their part with precision, serving as the vibrant backdrop to Charlie’s journey, seamlessly weaving rich melodies and playful percussive rhythms into the narrative, accompanying the creative sound and lighting design which cleverly enhances the magic and wonder. We are pulled into a world full of amazement, innovation, sugary treats, and, of course, Oompa-Loompas. 

Eddison Collyer (who alternates with Xavier Bakoss) is simply splendid in the title role. He perfects Charlie's sweetly innocent, waif-like demeanour, never missing a beat and propelling most of Act 1.He sings and reacts to the madcap antics spinning around him with wide eyed wonder. He is especially entertaining with Grandpa Joe (Dean Irwin) who, once he gets out of bed after 45 years, chews up the scenery and lands his off-beat asides with superb comic timing. Collyer’s relationship with his loving but struggling mother (Inge Marais) and their duet ‘A Letter from Charlie Bucket’ is sung melodiously and offers the most touching moments of the evening.

Peter Gollop as the elusive Willy Wonka isn't as zany or overtly devious as other portrayals, exuding more nonchalant disdain and unreliable narrator vibes, sitting back and enjoying the chaos he merrily creates while also inevitably becoming a substitute for Charlie’s missing father. His titular song ‘Pure Imagination’ is sung with pathos and delivers a lovely sense of awe as the Chocolate Room is revealed. 

The highlight of the show is when we meet the four obnoxious Golden Ticket Winners and their horrible parents.These characters have been cleverly contemporised to exude a painfully savvy social media generation. All are equally delicious in their individual awfulness and fabulous talent.  

Augustus Gloop  (Charlie Watson sharing the role with Mason Doherty) represents the terrible consequences of gluttony, living in a permanent food coma. The aptly named ‘More of Him to Love’ sung with his stoically German feeder/mother (Hayleigh Burman) was unfortunately drowned out a bit by the orchestra but the wonderfully comic choreography (Bianca Annetts) carried the intent and humour which was enhanced with thigh slapping and lederhosen.

Veruca Salt (Chloe McGraw) is the perfect Russian ballet princess, imperiously stamping her dainty foot and demanding everything “NOWI!” from her indulging father (Craig Davidson) whose soaring operatic moment was far too brief. McGraw’s dance solo, accompanied by the tight and talented ensemble as the Oompa-Loompa corps de ballet, was marvellously tongue-in-cheek. 

Violet Beauregarde (Charley Langford) is now a gum chewing influencer, decked in a hip, attention seeking, purple sequined and velour tracksuit. Her slightly vacant stare, while posing and posturing, along with her seedy father in the role of her promoter (Cameron Anderson) represents a fast growing generation of monetized narcissists. 

Mike Teavee (Dylan Keighran), is a Justin Bieber wannabe with zero talent except to ignore or scorn old people and remain tapped out of life, perpetually hunched over and addicted to his phone. Mrs Teavee (Fleur Anderson) is of course in complete denial of how ghastly her son is. But a hip flask appears now and then and a wonderfully sung and doggedly patriotic “What could possibly go wrong?”  forewarns of her rapidly approaching nervous breakdown.

While there were many proud family members within the thoroughly entertained  opening night audience, it was the children who really had the time of their life. A little girl sitting near me, very much enjoyed the macabre consequences of children behaving badly, but also needed some reassurance that; being torn apart by squirrels, turned into a blueberry, sucked up a pipe of hot chocolate or shrunk to the size of a barbie doll was just excellent pretending. Kudos to all involved who made the spectacle so compelling! 

Over the 5 years since its inception, Camden Musical Society has quickly gained a reputation for being an inclusive, supportive and welcoming place for its members and audience to explore their creativity and love of music and theatre. This delightful show is testament to this vision and the perfect school holiday outing. Secure your tickets quickly. 

4  Scrumdiddlyumptious bars out of 5 

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryPlays at The Camden Civic Centre until April 28th. 

Photography by Frances Holt

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