Step into a world of pure imagination…

As the spectacular stage show of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – with all new numbers from the multi award-winning songwriters of Hairspray – prepares to arrive at the Bristol Hippodrome in September, we chat to Gareth Snook, who plays the marvellous chocolatier Willy Wonka, to hear all about the show-stopping creation…

Come in!” boomed the positively buoyant voice behind the dressing room door, that when opened, framed the welcoming arms of Gareth Snook. Snook is an electric presence on stage and his charm transcends the fictional world. We are here to talk about his star turn as Willy Wonka in the dazzling new production of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. When we sit down with Snook, just 50 minutes before showtime, the production has just arrived at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, which just so happens to be Roald Dahl’s hometown. “It’s funny coming to work and strolling down Roald Dahl Plass. We’re right in the territory”, he says.

As we settle in, I clock the Wonka paraphernalia surrounding us – the coat, the hat, the cane. “As soon as I put that costume on, it does it for me,” Snook says. “I look in the mirror and go, there he is.”

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory hit the West End stage for the first time in 2013. Over the course of its three and a half-year run, it broke the record for weekly ticket sales and scooped two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Lighting Design. The show was then reworked for Broadway, running for nine months before embarking on a US tour, an Australian tour and then back to the states for another visit.

Now, the brand new production by director James Brining is on its first ever year-long circuit of the UK and Ireland. Having started at the Leeds Playhouse in November, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is set to arrive at the Bristol Hippodrome in September. A production seemingly of many firsts, audiences will also see the role of Charlie Bucket shared between four people throughout the year – including two actresses, Jessie-Lou Harvie and Amelia Minto – all of whom have received acclaim for their performances. What’s more, the creators have incorporated sign language into the production. Leonie Spilsbury, who plays Mrs Bucket and who is herself deaf, uses BSL alongside her dialogue, as do the other characters when speaking directly to her.

The 29-strong cast is brimming with talent and Snook is no stranger to the stage. His credits include Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, The Full Monty, Made in Dagenham, Blood Brothers and Chicago, to name just a few. Bristolians may know him from director Emma Rice’s hit production of Wise Children, which is also the name of her Bristol-based theatre company. But we’ve got to know, how does he feel about taking up the role of the world’s most famous chocolatier?

“I quickly discovered that you have to make it your own to bring him to life. You have to use a lot of yourself and I’ve certainly done that.

“Wonka can be a very misunderstood character. People describe him as sinister, but the kids bring it upon themselves. He warns them all but they don’t listen,” he laughs. “I’ve fallen in love with him a little bit, so I like protecting him. I think he deserves that.”

I wonder, has Snook taken any inspiration from Gene Wilder’s 1971 depiction or Johnny Depp’s 2005 portrayal? “I’m a huge fan of Gene Wilder – I think he’s extraordinary,” Snook tells us. “I watched both films but I didn’t revisit them as research because there’s such a difference between the musical theatre adaptation and the movies. But I do think Gene Wilder’s characterisation probably did have an effect on me.”

With music and lyrics by Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman [Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can], the duo tip their hats and pay homage to Wilder’s original motion picture with the inclusion of Pure Imagination and The Candy Man, while also injecting pop, techno and classical into the brilliant new score.

Simon Higlett’s set and costume design is also a masterpiece in itself. Harnessing the art of stagecraft, the set is transformed from the Bucket family’s gloomy dwelling to the chocolate-fuelled magical and mysterious world of Wonka’s factory using impressive creative technologies to deliver a fantastical visual experience.

“The set is ground-breaking,” Snook notes. “It’s a show of two halves. The first act is all about introducing the Bucket family and the children who win the golden tickets and then act two is all about the tour through the factory. It’s so colourful, there’s a video wall and floor – it’s incredible.”

By the time Wonka’s factory arrives in Bristol, the cast will have completed well over 250 shows. We ask Snook how he spends his free time in between the eight or nine shows he performs each week. “Lying down as much as possible,” he quips.

And what about when you’re in Bristol? “I know Bristol very well. I love the curry house next door to Bristol Old Vic. Is it the Raj? You will definitely see me in there at some point.”

As our time together comes to an end, I can’t help but marvel at Snook’s cool composure just 30 minutes before the show starts. As we stand to leave, he spins around on his chair and picks up a box of Lindt Lindor milk orange chocolate truffles. “Would you like a chocolate? I’m an orange and mint man,” he beams. From Willy Wonka himself? This must be pure imagination. n

• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical is showing at Bristol Hippodrome from 20 September – 8 October. Book your tickets at:

Photography by Johan Persson