It’s the musical that makes the dreams of youngsters come true – and the West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has certainly provided a golden ticket for one Cardiff company.
Welsh National Opera’s workshop, Cardiff Theatrical Services (CTS), has been building part of the sets for the multi-million pound new musical based on the story by Cardiff author Roald Dahl and directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, which opened in London this week.
The contract has proved a windfall for CTS which created 25 jobs after being commissioned to create set components such as a tangle of giant pipes which form the heart of the factory, a conveyor-belt for the nut-sorting room and huge flower-filled backdrops.
CTS, which was established in 1984 and is located in railway sidings in the heart of the city centre, is home to a team of artists – from painters and welders to carpenters and prop makers who can make the world of make-believe a reality.
As well as building sets for WNO, CTS has created scenery for major operatic productions, for Cameron Mackintosh shows Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Oliver!, in addition to a Tardis interior for Doctor Who, a pyramid structure for the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games and a Christmas tree for London’s St Pancras Station.
Since the beginning of March a number of key pieces of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been built from scratch in Wales before being transported to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane where CTS staff helped with their installation.
CTS general manager Darren Joyce said: “Originally we were approached to look at building the Ooompa Loompa pipe gantry, which is one of the more challenging pieces of the design as it’s both complex and enormous.
“We met with designer Mark Thompson so we could see the set model and put together an accurate quote for this and other items. In the end we were very successful and were commissioned to build several pieces, including the chocolate portal and suction pipe which play a big role in eliminating one of the ticket winners.
“Having this sizeable chunk of work for the one project enabled us to take on an additional 25 members of staff on top of our permanent team of 18 for the project. We also sub-contracted other local firms to work with us on this project, so all in all we have had around 70 people work on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory utilising the excellent technical and artistic skills that Cardiff has to offer.”
Here’s what some of the reviewers have to say about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
Daily Mail – Quentin Letts ***
“The first half of the show is as slow as cold treacle and most of the songs, which include an ironic techno-beat number, are duds.
“On the positive side we can enter clever special effects (a good gag with a shrunken child) and a much better second half.
“There is a solid central performance from Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka and the set designs are colourful and plainly expensive.
“But a really good musical gives you a sugar rush of emotional involvement. You care about the characters. That is absent.”
Independent – Paul Taylor ****
“Very engaging but rarely elating, this show is a skilful confection that doesn’t quite produce the inspired sugar-rush of magic that’s required.
“As the enigmatic chocolatier, the brilliant Douglas Hodge delivers a master-class in comic timing as he tosses off complicated patter-songs with a quiet, almost insolently negligent ease.
“It’s in the nature of the story, though, that Wonka makes a dramatically delayed entry.”
Daily Telegraph – Charles Spencer ***
“Director Sam Mendes lays on the theatrical goodies with a trowel. The sets are massive, the special effects amazing… Yet it only rarely touches the heart or stimulates the imagination like the RSC’s less spectacular but far more rewarding production of Dahl’s Matilda.
“The various calamities are staged with panache, and the special effects involving killer squirrels and those fearsome pygmies the Oompa-Loompas are highly ingenious.
“But there is no disguising the fact that the show is repetitive and, with the exception of Charlie and his game old Grandpa Joe (Nigel Planer), heartless.
“Most of the songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, strike me as serviceable rather than memorable and David Greig’s script springs disappointingly few surprises.”
Daily Express – Simon Edge ****
“With its British setting blurred enough for a comfortable Broadway transfer, it’s undoubtedly a triumph of exuberant stagecraft. That’s enough to make this evening a silver ticket, but whether it’s a golden one I’m not quite so sure.
“The real problem is I didn’t feel moved. This sumptuous evening feels a couple of strawberry creams short of the full box.”