Tag Archives: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – the Musical

Weekend Coffee Share – 28th January, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I hope you’ve had a great week and being the Australia Day long weekend, I’d better offer you a Vegemite sandwich along with our choice of beverage. Please don’t all run for the hills. I won’t force you to eat it!

We have had a busy and interesting week. It was the last full week of the school holidays and so there’s been that desperate urge for the kids to squeeze as much fun as they can out of those shrinking hours, while all the organizational nightmares of “Back to School” (Golly, why hasn’t anyone made a horror movie out of the return to school for the new school year?  Or, perhaps, they have and I just haven’t heard about it. Anyway, for those of you scattered around the globe, the Australian school year starts after the Australia Day long Weekend and that’s what’s wrapping up today. There’s a bit of variation between the schools. However, teachers go back tomorrow, our son on Wednesday and our daughter on Friday. So, come Monday, my New Year begins in earnest and all those best laid plans of mice and mum, need to swing into action…and I definitely need a good breather too! After all, all work and no play makes Mum rather dull and cranky too.

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Last Tuesday, my daughter and I attended Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical at Sydney’s historic Capitol Theatre. Our dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, has a lead role and is playing that horridly spoiled brat, Veruca Salt. Miss Karina wears the most incredibly poofy and gorgeously delicious pink tutu, which reminds me of fairy floss and is straight out of a ballet girl’s pure imagination. She also has a double-decker tiara and pointe shoes and she actually does quite a lot of ballet throughout and her dance with the squirrels is simultaneously hilarious, terrifying and… (No spoilers here!) Anyway, we met up with Miss Karina and Willy Wonka played by Mr Paul Slade Smith at Stage Door and that was so much fun. We had the best day.

Above: Meeting up with Miss Karina Russell at Stage Door to get our programs signed after the performance to to say hello.

It was interesting for me to revisit Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and I can see that I’ll be having to read the book yet again so I can shake out what I’ve seen in various versions and get back to what exactly came out of Roald Dahl’s head. You see, while the action is set with the sweetly delicious context of a chocolate factory and I’ve read that it was based on Roald Dahl’s childhood experiences as a chocolate taster at a chocolate factory himself, there is a very dark and almost sadistic side to Willy Wonka and there is no doubt in my mind that this book really delves into the dark side, questioning why bad, greedy people usually win out at the expense of the good. Indeed, I feel Roald Dahl takes matters into his own hands and turns things around, ensuring that Charlie Bucket a boy growing up in grinding poverty but with a great brain triumphs over all the brats. You can read more about that in: Our Visit to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical.

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The front doors of the historic Capitol Theatre, Sydney. 

I also wrote about the musical and more specifically about the historic Capitol Theatre for Thursday Doors.

Saturday took us off on a very different trajectory. It was Australia Day and Geoff and our son both took part in the Australia Day Regatta at Gosford Sailing Club. We had a wonderful day and a real highlight was the 11.00am Sail Past where skippers decorated their boats in as much Australia Day gumph as they could muster. It was a lot of fun and while someone else’s son was the obvious winner for the best decorated boat, our son won the Junior Aussie Larrikin Award. Instead of staying in his boat, he was towed along behind on an inflatable donut while his crew member steered and they were actually towed along because their wasn’t enough wind to compensate for the big lump of a teenage boy out the back. I must admit that his father and I were not impressed at the time, but it’s hilarious in hindsight and he was quite a hit. After all, you can’t really expect an entertainer to just sit in their boat counting knots, can you? Moreover, I really have to admit, that he’s very much my boy. I’d love to do something like that even now!

Above: Our son the “Junior Aussie Larrikin” with his Flying 11.

Well, they’re very much the highlights of the last week. I should also mention that it’s been very hot and that the heat could make for a post all on its own. However, I don’t want to become an Aussie whinger so I’ll keep my mouth shut and head for the air-conditioning.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Our Visit to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory… the Musical.

On Tuesday, my daughter and I ventured into Sydney with a group from her dance school to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…the Musical. Being a Roald Dahl tragic and chocolate lover, this musical was a must see.

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My daughter with her dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, at stage door after the performance.

However this production had an added attraction. Miss Karina Russell, our dance teacher, was playing Veruca Salt. That’s right. She was playing that awful rich brat of rich brats who I remember so clearly demanding: “I want an Oompah Loompah and I want it NOW!!” However, that’s not all. We’d already seen her costume when the cast performed at Carols in the Domain and she’s wearing  what looks like a double-yoker of a tutu, a double-decker tiara, a faux mink jacket and pointe shoes and she actually manages to get some ballet in before she meets her demise. She looks amazing. Indeed, all the costumes were fantastic. However, that’s all I’m going to say about the show other than, you should try and see it.

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Does doing adult dance classes make me the ultimate dance Mum? After years of driving my daughter to classes and concerts, I suddenly wanted to get out of the chair and have a go myself and I loved it. Found them so invigorating and creatively it blew me away.

However, if we go back to the title, you’ll see that this post addresses our visit to the musical, and it is in no way intended to be a review of the show. Rather, this is more of a review of how yours truly can complicate matters and achieve the extraordinary without even leaving her seat. It also looks at my personal connection with Roald Dahl. I know that might sound a bit full of myself and you’re probably wondering what this mad Australian woman has in common with Roald Dahl the literary genius. “Tell ‘er she’s dreaming!” Well, I’ll get to that.

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Inside the theatre.

If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that when my daughter and I went to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory- the Musical, that it had to be out of the ordinary. That since we don’t do anything via the road well-travelled, that we’d wind up on our own trajectory.

Firstly, as I explained, OUR dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, is playing Veruca Salt. Yes, that’s correct. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. She is OUR dance teacher. I know that probably sounds preposterous… Rowena learning dance when I have a debilitating cocktail of significant disabilities/chronic illnesses (hydrocephalus, dermatomyositis and Institital Lung Disease). However, somehow I found a pathway through and around all of that to take adult dance classes at the same studio as my daughter, Dancin Mates, here on the NSW Central Coast. I did some sessions of lyrical and contemporary dance with Miss Karina a few years ago. Moreover, in addition to the steps, she took us on a journey through how contemporary and lyrical dance rose out of the relative straight-jacket of classical ballet and introduced me to a range of choreographers and their philosophies. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me as a writer, and I’d go home and Google them all. Of course, Miss Karina asked me if I watched them dance. Of course not. I was interested in the words.

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Stage Door

Secondly, while we were sitting in our seats waiting for the curtain to rise, we had a drama of our own.  While it’s our role as audience to sit in our seats while the performance is on stage, yours truly took off her glasses for a group photo, and put them on the floor under her seat. Of course, you know what happens next, don’t you?!! They disappeared. In a truly farcical “only you, Rowena” way, my glasses vanished. So, I start blindly groping under my seat probing through the dark like my fingers have eyes. Yet, on the first couple of sweeps, nothing. My daughter is sitting next to me, she gets recruited and switches on the torch on her phone. Tips out all our merchandise and starts going through our backpack (which was packed with the kitchen sink) searching for them. Nothing. Although I lose my glasses almost every morning under my bed and always find them, I’m now starting to panic. Really panic. Here we are on our musical theatre experience of a lifetime, and I’m not going to see anything at all. CATASTROPHE!! Of course, I didn’t want to alert the rest of our group. I didn’t want to be the problem child, especially when I was one of the parents. However, just as mysteriously as my glasses vanished, they returned. They must’ve gone off in the Tardis and returned.

Anyway, as I said, our experience of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical was unique and treading down roads few have trod.

This takes me onto Roald Dahl and my incredibly personal connection to the man. While we know his books, Roald Dahl himself is an enigma of his own making. Indeed, when it comes to getting to know Roald Dahl, he’s quite the slippery fish.

I first started researching Roald Dahl a few years ago, when I included him in my blogging series: Letters to Dead Poets Letter to Roald Dahl. What particularly attracted me to Roald Dahl the man was our shared experience of going through a major neurological event and how that impacts on just about every part of your being.

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Roald Dahl with his plane.

You see, during WWII, Roald Dahl was a pilot in the Air Force and he fractured his skull when his plane crashed and experienced personality changes as a result. Indeed, it was after this accident that Roald Dahl started writing and left behind his job working as an engineer for Shell. His biographer, Donald Sturrock, wrote:

“A monumental bash on the head” was how Dahl once described this accident in the Western Desert, claiming that it directly led to his becoming a writer. This was not just because his first published piece of writing was a semi-fictionalised account of the crash, but also because he suspected that the brain injuries which he received there had materially altered his personality and inclined him to creative writing.”

His daughter Ophelia recalled her father’s fascination with tales of people who had experienced dramatic psychological and physiological changes – such as losing or recovering sight – after suffering a blow to the head. He also told her that he was convinced something of this sort had happened to him, as it explained why a budding corporate businessman working for Shell, without any particular artistic ambition, was transformed into someone with a burning need to write and tell stories. This hypothesis was doubtless attractive, too, because it pushed potentially more complex psychological issues about the sources of his desire to write into the background.

Nowadays doctors might well have diagnosed Dahl as suffering from what is called post-concussive syndrome. The initial symptoms of this condition are normally forgetfulness, irritability, an inability to concentrate and severe headaches. Dahl suffered from all of these. In some patients the symptoms disappear, but leave behind longer-lasting behavioural changes, which are usually associated with mood swings and an increased lack of inhibition. In some cases, too, it can also result in a fundamental alteration of the perception of the self.1.”

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Roald Dahl with wife actress Patricia Neal

However, that was not the end of Roald Dahl’s involvement with the neuro ward. 5th December, 1960 Roald Dahl’s son Theo was out walking with his nanny when a taxi veered into his pram and he was thrown into the air and landed head first onto the pavement fracturing his skull. Moreover, Theo also developed hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and was given emergency brain surgery where they inserted a shunt. However, shunts were particularly unreliable back then and were notorious for getting blocked. This required a surgical fix, and there were serious concerns about how these surguries would affect Theo’s cognitive development. I remember how my Dad rallied when my shunt blocked, and how Dads can be a mighty force fighting to save their child no matter how old they are. So, I wasn’t surprised that Roald Dahl decided to take matters into his own hands. Dahl recruited the guy who made the hydraulic petrol pumps for his model planes and Theo’s paediatirican and togehter they developed a new shunt which saved thousands of lives, before it was superceded.

Then, as if the Dahl family hadn’t already seen enough of the neurology ward, in February 1965 his wife Patricia Neal suffered a severe stroke after an aneurism burst while she was pregnant with their fourth child, Sophie. She spent three weeks in a coma and then Roald Dahl devised a grueling rehabilitation program, which saw her return to the screen.  However, that is a story in itself.

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Who would’ve thought that a secret harbour was inside my head?(Hydrocephalus)

As you may be aware, I was born with hydrocephalus after Mum had a very difficult birth (not unsurprisingly I was facing the wrong way something which hasn’t changed unfortunately). However, for some reason it lay dormant like a volcano until my mid-twenties, when for some strange reason whatever had been compensating for the presence of this harbour in my head stopped and within about a six to twelve month period it blew its stack. Indeed, just about the only symptoms I had growing up was being a bit clumsy, rather extroverted and impulsive and having difficulty finding a hat which fit. It was only when I was 26 and a sense of vertigo I’d had after a bad flu didn’t clear up that I went back to the family GP who’d been treating me since I was 12, and the long and short of that, was that I was diagnosed with Dandy Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. After a grueling six months where I rapidly went down hill, I had brain surgery in July 1997, where they inserted a shunt. I was off to rehab for 6 months as an outpatient and left wondering if I would ever reclaim my life. The impact of all of this was like being struck by a bomb only I could never see or confront my enemy and it took a few years to feel vaguely myself again.

So, rewinding back to 1997 in Perth’s Mount Hospital, you have a young Australian woman who experienced a reversal of Roald Dahl’s big bang. Instead of having all my neurons suddenly switched up at once, mine were all switched down just as suddenly, when the shunt was put in. I very distinctly remember waking up from surgery and feeling like someone had turned down the lights. Not in terms of what I could see or hear, but I guess something along the lines of how I processed everything. I felt very, very quiet. This wasn’t, I believe, something which was apparent to those around me and I am still to this day, an extrovert and I’m sure countless people are still trying to tone me down. This was all about how I felt inside myself. Naturally, when I read about Roald Dahl’s experience, I understood what he went through immediately. Wished I could talk with him about it.

There is so much more which could be said about how personal tragedy shaped Roald Dahl’s writing. However, that will be another post. However, I hope this might encourage people who have experienced an adverse neurological event, that there is hope. That the light can switch back on. Never give up. You might even become a best-selling author, especially if you actually get your book finished!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s a link to my Letter to Roald Dahl from my Letters to Dead Poets series: Roald Dahl: Letters to Dead Poets

And Roald Dahl’s Fictional Reply

Sources

Roald Dahl: The Plane Crash Which Gave Birth to A Writer

Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl.

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Heading Home. This is outside Sydney’s historic Central Railway.

Capitol Theatre, Sydney…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors!

This week, my daughter and I waltzed through the doors of Sydney’s historic Capitol Theatre to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory- The Musical and had the experience of a lifetime. You see, our dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, is playing that most annoying of spoilt rich brats, Veruca Salt and we attended the performance with about 20 other students and parents in a great big riotous rabble who were very one-eyed with our affections, while of course wanting to enjoy and absorb the entire show to the max.

While I’m busting to share a bit about seeing the musical, first I’m going to run through the architectural aspects of the theatre because, after all, doors are about architecture. Yet, at the same time, you could say that for a fledgling performer,  getting their foot in the door and better still, having their name printed up on their dressing room door under that golden star, represents the fulfillment of a journey of a thousand miles, a lot of hard work and faith in their vision no matter what.

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The Front Doors – Capitol Theatre

This year, the Capitol Theatre will be 127 years old. That’s older than any of us will ever be, and naturally this grand old dame has a past. Indeed, you’ll hardly be surprised to know, that she’s been revived (and you could even say reincarnated) into various guises over the years. After all, even a building must feel like a change from time to time.

 

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A horse bus trundles past and carts line up outside the New Belmore Markets, published by Kerry and Co, Australia, 1893-1909, MAAS Collection, 85/1284-1538

The Capitol Theatre started out in life in 1892 as the New Belmore Markets, in Haymarket (although they were officially named after the mayor, Sir William Manning). The building was designed by council architect, George McRae, who also prepared the design for the Queen Victoria Markets. The market’s motif of fruit and foliage may still be seen in the terra cotta decorative relief of fruit and foliage in the spandrels of the arches.

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2012/104/1-2/9 Photographic print, black and white, mounted, elevated view of Wirths’ Circus performers and animals on stage and in circus ring watched by the audience at the Hippodrome (Capitol Theatre), Sydney New South Wales, photographed by J D Cleary

In 1916 the building was converted to a hippodrome designed specifically for the Wirth Bros circus, which included a reinforced concrete water tank for performances by seals and polar bears. The tank had a hydraulically controlled platform that was raised from the base to form a cover that doubled as a circus ring when the pool was not in use. While I know the use of live animals in circuses is something many of us no longer condone, the clowns and acrobats still make the circus a show.

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Inside Capitol Theatre – Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical.

Within 10 years the circus became financially unviable and Wirth Bros initiated the idea of converting the theatre to a picture palace or movie theatre and Union Theatres became its next tenant. The classical reproduction statues and architectural props were manufactured in the US, scrupulously numbered for shipment and reassembly – supervised by Sydney theatre designer Henry White. Opening night was held on Saturday 7th April, 1928:

 

OPENING CEREMONY

The effect of the new Capitol Theatre on the crowds which entered it on Saturday night was bewildering, and a little overwhelming. One seemed to have stepped from under the dull skies of everyday life and passed into an enchanted region, where the depth of the blue heavens had something magical about it, and something heavily exotic. Clouds passed lightly over; then stars began to twinkle. Then again all was blue and clear.

This “atmospheric” effect had been carried out, not only in the auditorium itself, but also in the entrance lounge, so that it leapt upon the visitors the instant they left the street. The construction and decorations were all in the Venetian style. Facing the entrance above the doors which led to the stalls ran a slender balustrade, with tapestries hanging over it and lying against the pinkish-brown, variegated stucco of the walls. At either end stairways in two flights ran up to the balcony. Everywhere one looked there was bas-reliefs set into the wall, tapestries hanging, twisted pillars of red and gold.

In the auditorium itself there was a much greater profusion of sculpture and architectural detail and objects of art; but the great size of the place enabled all this to be set forth with no suspicion of cramping. Indeed, the designers have achieved a remarkable feeling of depth and vastness. The two sides of the theatre are quite dissimilar in treatment. On the left, as one faced the screen, the irregular facade terminated in a delightful garden, with a round tower in the midst, supported by red and white Florentine pillars, with flowering vines drooping down towards the orchestra, with flocks of snowy doves. On the right a series of huge pedestals and niches, bearing reproductions of the Hermes of Praxiteles, the Capitoline Wolf, and other famous statues, and thrown into relief by the decorative cypress trees behind, led down to a large palace-front with a balcony. As for the proscenium itself, that was roofed in red tiles, to heighten the feel- ing of out-of-doors, surmounted by groups of beautiful glowing lamps, and very richly ornamented, a particularly attractive feature being a row of peacocks with electric lights behind them.

The lighting in fact, played a great part in the theatre’s success. In general it was diffused, and gained a pleasantly restful quality from the blue that floated In the roof; but at the same time bulbs bad been concealed here and there, so as to bring out the features of the decoration and give the surroundings vivacity. Sometimes, when all the main lights had been extinguished, there remained a charming half-glow on the proscenium, with the lamps, a glow of scarlet in the niches behind the statues, and a yellow glare behind some trelllslns at the sides as the dominant notes.

The first event on Saturday night when the curtain of rich varigated red and green rose from the footlights was the official opening of the theatre by the Chief Civic Commissioner (Mr. Fleming). The directors of Union Theatres, Ltd., said Mr. Fleming, deserved the highest praise for this venture, which had cost them £180,000. It was remarkable to think what progress the films had made during the very few years they had been in existence. He himself could remember attending the first motion picture screened in Sydney.”Sydney Morning Herald(NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 9 April 1928, page 4

 

However, thanks to the advent of TV, attendances at theatres plummeted and after the very successful staging of Jesus Christ Super Star in 1972, the future of the Capitol Theatre hung in the balance once again and plans were made to demolish it and replace it with a modern lyric theatre. In 1981 Australia’s last remaining atmospheric theatre was snatched from the jaws of the bulldozer by a Heritage Council conservation order and plans were made to restore the building and create a world-class lyric theatre. You can read more about that here.

So, after all these different roles, as I said, the Capitol Theatre is currently hosting Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical. Although my daughter does a lot of dancing and has appeared in multiple performances, we only get to one of these big shows every couple of years and when we do we get right into it buying the merchandise, the musical score and feeling lost somewhere in between this fabricated world and reality. The first big musical I went to was Annie and then my daughter and I went to see Matilda a few ago. However, Charlie has a special place in our hearts thanks to Miss Karina, who I mentioned is our dance teacher and staring as Veruca Salt.  She spends the entire show in a very fancy and oh so over the top pink tutu, pointe shoes and a double-decker tiara…only the best.

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Although Miss Karina has one of the lead roles, we didn’t know how long she’d appear on stage and whether she’d actually get a chance to dance very much. Aside from having seen her costume and being warned she gets eaten by squirrels, we were in the dark. Her performance was going to be a complete surprise. Moreover, that’s what it’s going to stay, because I don’t want to spoil your fun either. Let’s just say there was much more that I expected and that if you like a bit of ballet but might not get through an entire ballet, you’ll love this. Indeed, it might even encourage you to hit the big time.

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After the performance, we all headed round to Stage Door to meet up with Miss Karina and we had the added bonus of Willy Wonka as well. I think all of us had seen her the day before in the studio. However, it was like we hadn’t seen her in years and as she walked out stage door, she was swamped. A performing artist can have fans, but nothing compares to this. I hope she felt the love, because I sure did.

I am still working on a more extended post about our Charlie experience, but it’s taking longer than I’d hoped. I researched Roald Dahl a few years ago for a series I wrote: Letters to Dead Poets. It turns out the Roald Dahl and I have some peculiar similarities and while I been beavering away on that post for a few days, I have to get a lot of details right and it’s taking longer than I’d hoped. However, getting historical facts wrong is worse in my book than making grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Yet, I haven’t given up. It’s simply a work in progress.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena