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Charlie and the Chocolatiers

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory previewing from 17 May at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane_preview

Ever since Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964 it has enchanted generations of children. Dahl’s vivid, grippingly-told story of a poor boy named Charlie Bucket who loves chocolate and who, through the astonishingly lucky chance of finding a golden ticket, visits Willie Wonka’s mysterious and wonderful chocolate factory is an imaginative tour de force. The mercurial figure of Willie Wonka – creative chocolate genius, inventive entrepreneur and master of marketing – dominates this deeply satisfying morality tale, which sees greed, selfishness and over-indulgence, embodied in figures such as Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt, firmly punished during their visit to Wonka’s chocolate factory. Such is the appeal of the book that has twice been adapted for cinema, the first in 1971 starring Gene Wilder, the second in 2005 starring Johnnie Depp. May 2013 sees the long-awaited stage musical, directed by Sam Mendes, opening in London’s West End. set out to explore the impact of Dahl’s vision on people who themselves work in the world of chocolate.

For Chantal Coady of Rococo, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made a deep impression. “I remember the book being read to me by my parents and then reading it myself and being totally captivated because Roald Dahl has an amazing way of creating pictures which you can totally see and identify with. I remember the grass made out of little bits of mint sugar, the chocolate waterfall, of course, and the little eggs that you put on your tongue and the outside dissolves leaving a little sugar bird in the middle.” The idea of a wonderful chocolate factory lodged very powerfully in her subconscious. “It was a fantasy world for me,” she laughs. “As a child I would fall asleep and dream about chocolate and the chocolate factory and in my dream I’d have put sweets and chocolates under my pillow and I’d wake up and put my hand under the pillow and there’d be nothing there!” The sense of humour which runs through the book is something Coady identifies with strongly and which she sees as part of Rococo’s make-up, from its realistic-looking ‘quail’s eggs’ filled with praline to the company’s witty names and humorous drawings. “I couldn’t imagine having things in Rococo which weren’t fun. Beautiful and fun, quirky and with that off-the-wall sense of humour, which is a very British thing.”

Based on the Caribbean island of Grenada, Mott Green founded Grenada Chocolate Company in 1999, a co-operative of organic farmers and chocolate makers which transform the island’s cocoa into chocolate at source. For Mott, the book of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “is an old childhood favourite. I do have my original copy – the only relic which I have from my childhood is my copy which was read to me when I was about five.” Having set up his own chocolate factory, Mott has often been compared to Willie Wonka, which in the early days of setting up Grenada Chocolate Company he found “almost off-putting, as I felt what we were doing was serious activism, empowering the cocoa farmers.” With the passage of time, however, he now feels that “somehow the whole comparison to Willie Wonka seems less trite. It was indeed a very radical book – a powerful fantasy and moral tale and also a scathing satire on the chocolate industry.” At one point, Mott thought of “making a chocolate waterfall. A conch uses a stone over chocolate, so why not have the chocolate using gravity to smash onto stones?” Mott tells a story of how at one point, while he was himself living in the chocolate factory in Grenada and giving tours of it, he showed his father and his son around the factory. “That day I was particularly animated, trying to make it interesting, and at the end I gave them each a piece of chocolate and as they were walking out, I heard the son say ‘Daddy was that Willie Wonka?’ And the father said, ‘No son, but I’m pretty sure that’s the closest to Willie Wonka you’ll meet in real life!’” Nowadays, Mott takes pleasure from the comparison. “ I feel the character of Willie Wonka is more a kindred spirit than an inspiration. I like the idea that I could be close to such a loved and famous and intriguing character.”

Helen Heslop, General Manager of elegant chocolate boutique Alexeeva & Jones in Notting Hill, London, also has a great affection for Dahl’s book which was a “family favourite” growing up. “Once you begin reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you just can’t stop, because the imagery of the factory, the tastes, the smells, they leap off the page at you. People attach to the book in a strong way, because of the way it’s written and because it’s about chocolate, which is such a strong sensory trigger for people. It starts the magic of chocolate when you’ve very little.” As well as the chocolate element – “that chocolate river is actually a tempering machine!” - Helen was also taken by the book’s social message. “It’s a book which struck me as being about the democratization of chocolate. In the beginning chocolate belongs to the people who can afford to buy hundreds of bars to find those golden tickets. Chocolate is something that people who have money can have. But by the end, it’s Charlie who’s inherited the factory.” For Helen, visiting chocolate factories for real continued the magic. “My parents took me and my brother to Bournvilles when I was 8 or 9 years old. They didn’t tell us what we were doing until we got there as they knew we’d pester them! I’d read the book by then and it was the first time I’d seen a real chocolate factory and it was exciting. I’ve been lucky enough with the places I’ve worked at to visit chocolate kitchens at Rococo and L’Artisan du Chocolat. The reality of making chocolate is quite magical too, even though it’s grounded in science, technology, precision and detail. Chocolate has never lost its magic for me.”

The film versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have cast their own spell. Chocolatier Amelia Rope of Amelia Rope Chocolates has fond memories of seeing the film – “The movie was amazing. A whole, great confectionary fantasy world. I saw the film and dreamt of living in a chocolate factory, like any young child. Wonka is a magician. I loved the way the film was creative, exciting, slightly edgy.” Amelia, too, was taken to Cadbury’s Factory as a child on a trip which she remembers vividly. “It amazed me how they produced chocolate. I remember being astonished by all the little conveyor belts and thinking if I worked here I’d want to eat it all!” The creative side of Wonka’s personality is something Amelia relates to. “I get my inspiration from so many random places – architecture, stained glass . . . I love colour, taste, playfulness.” Amelia is looking forward to seeing the stage show. “I do hope they get the smell of chocolate,” she observes. “Having been an aromatherapist, I love smell. I do the recipe development in my flat and cook or melt chocolate almost every day so I do get the smell of chocolate.”

The film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a childhood favourite with chocolatier Paul A. Young. “I remember it being magical and colourful. There was nothing else like it. It filled every gap you ever wanted, especially in the edible room, but it was scary at the same time.” As Paul points out, in those days, there was no Internet, no videos, no DVDS, so he had to wait for the film to come on TV. “It made the film even more special. You couldn’t have it whenever you wanted, so you really enjoyed it when you did get it. It was the same with chocolate in my childhood. It was a treat for Sundays and birthdays, which made chocolate special.” Paul has seen and enjoyed both film versions, but it’s the original which he saw as a boy which has a special place in his affections. “I love the fact that the set in the original film wasn’t CGI. I’m very much about tangible things and the special effects were real but you couldn’t believe they were happening.”

The character of Willie Wonka resonates with Paul. “This person in control of creating nice things for people and people wondering how he creates them. I think that idea did get into my subliminal subconscious.” Wonka’s ability to combine the creative and business side of life is to be admired. “I’ve had to learn the business side,” says Paul. “But once you’ve learnt it and that’s running, you can be super-creative and keep what people expect of you going. People do call me Willie Wonka all the time. Willie Wonkda was quite dapper and I’m quite dapper. I think that’s the creative side of me. I like dressing creatively; I’m not just a jeans and T-shirt person. I don’t like wearing chef’s clothes; I think they’re dull and boring. I’m determined to find something I can wear in the kitchen which makes me creative, but is food-safe, because chocolatiers are artists now.” With Paul A. Young noted for its innovative flavours, Paul is looking forward to soon being able to work in his own new development kitchen in the basement of the Royal Exchange. “That’s going to be my own space to create all the new products in and do testing. The development side is important, but you can only do that if you feed your creative energy, feed your mind. You can’t force it.”

Thinking about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Paul reflects “I never knew that I’d be a chocolatier and that this film would have such meaning for me. It’s really important to me. I can’t wait to see the stage show.”

Sadly the remarkable Mott Green, visionary founder of  The Grenada Chocolate Company, transforming cocoa into chocolate in its country of origin, died on June 1st in Grenada. RIP Mott Green (1966-2013)

Billy Boyle and Myra Sands in rehearsals for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Credit - Helen Maybanks) 42_preview

Billy Boyle and Myra Sands in rehearsals for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

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