In terms of Wonka's character I take a somewhat religious view. Firstly, I think it's a story about a king handing on his crown, like the Dalai Lama finding a new successor or the Old Testament Jehovah wanting to hand over his kingdom. I'm not saying by any means that the show is religious, but for me the story is a deeply primal one. I always felt it was about how we hand over something to a child. That was a very important theme: ‘How do we hand over our kingdoms? How do we pass on what we have made?'
Secondly, I always saw Wonka as a very theatrical figure. I have always seen the chocolate factory as a metaphor for creativity both broadly, or in my case, the creativity of the theatre. For me, the theatre is a chocolate factory. It's a place where anything is possible and it's a place where crazy impresarios and svengalis and berserk conjurers make anything possible. I see the show as metaphor for a backstage tour – a lucky kid has won the chance to go backstage and see the magic.
I never quite bought the image of Willy Wonka that came across in the Tim Burton film, who was a bit Michael Jackson-ish – reclusive, obsessed with childhood. I never thought he was that. Wonka is not obsessed with childhood, he is obsessed with creativity, with invention, with magic. He has to hand down his kingdom and does not want to hand it to an adult because adults are set in their ways, so he scours the land like the Dalai Lama. He needs the best young brain in the country and that happens to belong to the most unlikely and humble child. The thing about Wonka is that he doesn't give a f*** if you don't like him. He only wants to know what is in you.
I hope very much that the real-life Charlie Buckets will be able to see the show. I know that all the people involved in the production will try to make sure there are deals and such that will mean groups of schoolkids can come see the show. Obviously it's not subsidized theatre and that is just something that one just has to accept, but the access issue is something I am very aware of. In a funny way I think a lot of Charlie Buckets will come because Mr Bucket or Grandpa Joe will say, "Our one treat this year is to take the whole family to see this show."
I know it will cost a lot and I'm not trying to be too sentimental, but what I'm trying to get at is that people who don't go to the theatre a lot may feel that this is a show worth seeing as a treat. One of the reasons I took the job on was because I wanted to be certain that the kid in row 49 who is having their first encounter with theatre will not just have an amazing night but will see something with as much heart and depth as I could possibly muster.
So if and when the Bucket family do come I feel a real sense of responsibility that what they see absolutely rewards them in terms of everything they would want from a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You can be your bottom dollar that every kid will have their favourite scene in the book and will want to see it on stage. And they'll want the Oompa Loompas to look fantastic and the chocolate factory to be spectacular. It's a big responsibility.
These days, in terms of reviews, there is nowhere to hide. We could have previewed the show in Southampton but people would still have come and tweeted about it and written about it on WhatsOnStage. Plus, considering the sheer cost and scale of doing this, I don't think it would have been possible to reproduce it in a smaller venue. So for a whole mixture of reasons the people at the top, Sam and Warner Brothers, thought we should play an honest hand and open straight in the West End, with a long enough preview period to fix things.
I don't feel any hostility about being reviewed. The theatrical landscape is very different now - everyone is a reviewer and I think that's a good (if occasionally painful) thing as an artist. Even if I wanted to, it would be very difficult to avoid the reviews, seeing as I'm on Twitter and Facebook.
I appreciate that on Charlie we're doing the so-called ‘New York System', whereby we have reviewers in over the course of a few nights and then the first night is essentially a gala party. I usually hate first nights. They terrify me, they make the actors nervous and they're an odd audience as well. I think this way everybody feels that the reviewers are seeing the show with a normal audience, so we have a few chances to do the show well then have a party and not be too stressed about it.
I'm as guilty as anyone of looking at a big project and thinking it's bound to be a success because of its sheer scale. I've always been the little guy, but suddenly I'm opening Charlie, which is about as big as it gets. I just hope that both the public and the press realise that this is a production offered without an ounce of cynicism. Everybody got involved because it was a chance to play in the chocolate factory. Who wouldn't want to do that?
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