Review: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory at Sunderland Empire

Review: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory at Sunderland Empire

Press Night, Thursday 3 August 2023

Enter into a world of pure imagination at the Sunderland Empire with your Golden Ticket should you have been lucky enough to find one.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is a delightful stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel. The story follows the young and impoverished Charlie Bucket as she embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Willy Wonka’s mysterious and enchanting chocolate factory. Along with four other lucky children who find golden tickets hidden in Wonka Bars, Charlie explores the magical world of Willy Wonka.

A set comprising of what was heaps of metal lumped together gave an industrial feel, for what I see to convey our Charlie Buckets poor surrounding and circumstance, led by Jessie-Lou Harvie who brilliantly delivers as the female lead of which Charlie is. Lou-Harvie is also left to portray her role with her broad Scottish accent too which was a nice touch in allowing her to deliver it naturally and not changing it. 

The show starts with Charlie finding pieces of would be treasure to bring home for her family to be creatively used. It is here we also meet the family nestled together in bed and can instantly see the chemistry and bond she has with Grandpa Joe played by Michael D’Cruze. 

We learn of the Chocolate factory and how after not being seen for years Wonka offers out a competition for five lucky winners to visit and see the factory behind it’s closed doors and it is here is where the first half of the show takes us, with Charlie’s attempts to find her eventual golden ticket and being introduced to the other four winners. Emma Robotham-Hunt gave a great performance as demanding and spoilt Veruca Salt, Robin Simoes Da Silva as Augustus Gloop, Katherine Picar our Violet Beauregarde, Teddy Hinde was the obnoxious teenager Mike Teavee.

A loud and brash Gareth Snook introduces himself prior to the interval departing from the quieter Gene Wilder that we may be use too, making the part his own. Snook delivers a wonderful rendition of pure imagination and portrayal of this mysterious chocolate maker, although at times I was wondering if he was more devious and darker or caring and friendly. 

The second half takes us on the tour of the factory and if imagination is what’s behind the chocolate creations then credit goes to the stage designers behind the idea to use projection and the digital screen to take us up, down and along the factory. A creative, inventive and colourful method adding moments such as Violet Beauregarde being turned into a blueberry. 

As ever the oompah loompas make their appearance as Wonkas assistants and in this depiction you’ll see them in their robotic form.

I commend the show for almost flawlessly integrating BSL in to the show however this revolves around much of the conversation with Charlie, The Grandparents and mother Mrs Bucket played by Leonie Spilsbury (Whose twitter account identifies her as deaf). I just found this part-integration created some  inconsistency and also confusing for some as to why it was there in the show. Had this been carried through the show with maybe a BSL interpreter or just signed through for the whole show it may have worked a lot better for its integration. 

A wondrous and imaginative set design and great acting take you on a tour in a world of pure imagination at the Sunderland Empire, so grab your golden ticket and take a tour! 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical will hit Sunderland Empire’s stage from Wednesday 2 – Sunday 13 August 2023. Tickets are available online at 

-Aaron Whittington

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