The mood in the camp as we prepare for press night is very good. We put in our last couple of changes last Saturday, and on this scale making a change of any type is a nightmare - you have to re-rehearse three sets of kids, for a start. Just a line cut can literally take an afternoon. So Sam came out on Tuesday night and said, "Those two changes are going to be taken out. They didn't work. And that's it now, the show is locked."
What I loved about that moment is that he knew we'd overshot and, whereas every other change through previews had definitely improved the show, here we had made two changes that had to come out because they weren't right, and that's when we realised that we had finished. That's not to say it's now perfect, of course, but we need to give the show to the actors.
We feel ready. It would have been awful to have been thinking, ‘Oh God, if only we had another week'. But I'm confident that what we're putting out there is best version of what we can do, and that's all we could've hoped for.
The flip side of that is that now, for first time, I'm beginning to look down. By which I mean for five years I've tried not to think about how massive this thing is - I have never allowed myself to as I genuinely would've frozen. A bit of me never believed we'd get this far anyway. A bit of me kept thinking, ‘they'll probably fire me'. So yesterday [Wednesday] was the first time I didn't have anything to do, and all I could do was sort of look down and feel sick with fear. But it's important to feel that, I think. It's a good sign.
I've never been involved in anything on this scale before. It was great having Sam [Mendes] in rehearsals, because he's used to working at this level and was able to be more playful with the show as a result. Working with someone with that kind of artistic heft is great - it's not on every project your director takes two years out to direct a Bond film.
Sam told me to write the book as if it were a billion dollar movie. That was wonderful because normally on a project like this I would've immediately started thinking about logistics. But Sam and Scott [Wittman] and Marc [Shaiman] all encouraged me to be creative, which was great because it meant I could write Chocolate Factory exactly how I wanted to.
Initially I wrote a play with no songs in it and then Scott and Mark started to say, ‘this is where we see this number going' and ‘we think we could tell that through a song'. They were very generous with me and it certainly never felt like a battle; we all just wanted to tell the story as clearly as possible.
But it's been an enormous challenge - the story is catastrophically difficult to adapt. It has a central protagonist that does next to nothing; it's very much in two halves; it has a major character you don't meet until very late on; it doesn't have a plot to drive it. I spoke to Dennis Kelly, who wrote the book for Matilda, and he said "The trouble with Roald Dahl is that he just f***ing made it up as he went along." And what he meant by that is that Dahl usually invented the next chapter without any particular reference to the chapter before, which is great if you're reading a book to kids night after night, but a nightmare if you're trying to adapt it into a two hour play.
The full collaborative process only began in February when we started rehearsing. The set was designed by that stage and that affected me in terms of the storyline - there was quite a lot to work out just with the scenery changes. Our transitions became so complicated that they have actually become scenes in themselves. And a lot of dialogue changed after I started getting feedback from the actors - you realise that children need much simpler dialogue, for example, and Douglas had some strong ideas about Wonka that we incorporated.
But really once we were all in the room it was like any other production in that it all started to get really bouncy and interesting and everything shaped everything else, as it should do.