“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
“He lived happily ever after.”
– Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This weekend I might not have got everything I ever wanted, but I did receive one thing that my childhood self desperately fantasised about: my very own Golden Ticket.
What child read Roald Dahl’s tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and didn’t have endless dreams of sailing in a gigantic boat made from a hollowed-out boiled sweet, down a river churning with chocolate, past endless doorways leading to mind-boggling new confectionary creations? Not one, of course, because it was incredible.
I was no exception, and even if I can only visit that particular factory in my childhood dreams, I can recreate some of the best bits in my waking life as an adult. So that’s just what I went and did.
The Roald Dahl experience began, of course, with copious amounts of wonderful sweet and savoury creations. The One Aldwych Hotel runs a stunningly themed – and ever so English – afternoon tea, based entirely around the tale of Willy Wonka and his magical morsels.
There were some beautiful sandwiches – which really were just good sandwiches and had very little bearing on the story – an endless supply of chocolate flavoured teas, and for the grown-ups a brilliantly alcoholic Charlie Chocktail, with whisky, cherry liqueur, and chocolate bitters served in a steaming teapot and a glass tiny enough for an Oompa Loompa.
The service in general was exceptional, but everyone knows that the bit of that two-hour experience that people are really excited about is the final pièce de résistance – the chocolate! And I’m amazed to say they didn’t disappoint.
There was chocolate caramel milk in tiny sipping bottles; strangely flavoured candy floss it was impossible to guess the source of; blueberry brioche and mini scones with strange and wonderful jams; and decadent golden chocolate eggs, filled to the brim with vanilla and mango cheesecake yolk.
In the book, adults are transported back to the giddiness of being children as they’re led into the chocolate room of the factory, and here at least, some of that magic was recreated. As the feast was brought to our table, the eyes of every adult lit up and grins were smeared across faces, and when it was their turn to be presented with their own platter of treats, half of the fun of the experience was watching the people around us receive theirs too.
We ended the afternoon feeling joyfully sick and not merely a little bit childish, and that’s really all you can ask for from an afternoon of entering the wonderful world of Willy Wonka, isn’t it?
On With The Show
But that wasn’t the real reason for our trip down memory lane. The real highlight of the long day of being a child again was watching the Chocolate Factory come to life in a very real way.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical has been running with the original West End cast since 25 June 2013, and nearly three years on, it truly is like stepping into a long lost dream.
There’s very little subtlety to this show, right down to the twinkling sweet shop in the foyer; and that’s what makes it pure magic. It’s less exuberant and more heartfelt than its authorial cousin, Matilda – which is still being performed down the road – but the sense of wonder it drags into the theatre is overpowering.
Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka is witty, unsettling, slapstick and endlessly watchable. The set and stagecraft are nothing short of a theatregoer’s dream, and the various calamities that befall the brilliantly-crafted child horrors are meticulously staged.
It doesn’t have the same thrill as Matilda but its staging is arguably far better, and its sense of entering another world and being swept up in the sweetest of stories is impossible to match.
There are many things to do as a traveller in London, and one which sits at the top of a long list for most people is paying a visit to a West End show. If you can, and if the same chocolate wonderland caught your imagination as it did mine way back when, then why not make the experience last an entire day and get truly swept up in being a child again?
We have to pretend to be grown-ups all the time now, so what’s a single day spent dreaming, really?
Next up: A Day in the Park: London Edition
Themed Afternoon Tea
One Aldwych Hotel
£37.50 per person or £48.00 with a cocktail
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical
Royal Theatre, Drury Lane
Tickets: From £21.00