Charlie and the Sci-Fi/Steampunk Factory

Tonight it’s going to be a chocorific delight! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory awaits. Today I’m sitting up on the second circle… The view isn’t too bad! Though I must say stall seats are too hardcore. When I see the Wonka bars on sale my eyes widen and I immediately buy one. I know it’s just marketing and it’s actually just a Nestle scam but it matters not. After all it is a night of childlike charm.

I remember adoring the book when I read it. Fiendishly delightful and so revealing of human nature. Dahl as usual uses the scalpel of his wit to remove the reflective veneer on society to show us what ugly children we really are, but his tools are treated with a comic soporific that makes it all the more enjoyable once you realize you are laughing at what you were and might still become. When I was a child I loved Roald Dahl… Now, slightly more steeped in the understanding of the mystical literary arts, I find myself slightly unnerved at this magnificent author’s arcanely artless manipulation of our minds, and yet full of awe that though I recognize that he is playing with my mind, I still do so desire to be drawn towards the inevitable end. True greatness! Perhaps it is time to revisit my Roald Dahl omnibus of bedtime stories when I get home. Now those stories are the potential stuff of nightmares, given form on the page and easily dismissible by the conscious mind, but they continue to haunt us in our most vulnerable moments…

Charlie is good! But I think my expectations are too high. There’s still half a show to go though. The emotional fleshing out of the characters is good and the subtle pokes at the condition of youth today is pretty good. Oh I forgot, Top Hat managed to sneak in a superbly funny Shakespearean line and also paid suitable tribute to Ginger Rogers’ dancing skills… With a perfectly placed quote. Not in the original movie, but absolutely spot on. The fun part of Charlie should begin now, what with Oompa Loompas! The set is great, very nicely done, interesting use of moving props! I like the passing train effect. Very simple but elegant. Conceptually though I felt a lot more could have been done with the moving bits: there were very literal. Could have done with more cunning symbolic multilayered meaning woven into the physical movement of the performance. Either that or I just didn’t get what was supposed to happen ha.

Oh it ended very nicely! I like the use of the screen… But I think the beauty of the narrative is that it has to be played out in your head. I found myself imagining the chocolate ecosystem of the Wonka factory halfway through! And did I spot a Star Wars reference halfway through? The satire of Mike Teevee’s ending was incredibly amusing. Death to MTV indeed!

On the whole I think Top Hat was more well crafted… I preferred it. It probably has something to do with where I was sitting also. In the stalls the show is oriented towards you, so perhaps there is a fuller and more visceral reception of the show. Charlie was enjoyable but it wasn’t totally absorbing… But definitely worth watching! My Wonka bar will taste better for the flavours of imagination that it will conjure.

London by night is interesting. It’s literally grey. The sky is grey but interestingly it is a semi-bright grey. I was startled when I came out of the theater. The soft pitterpatter of drizzle and hard street lighting from the backdrop for sharp streets with leaves and cigarette ash ground into the asphalt, lit by warm glow and provided with surround sound from cheery pubs, conversation muted through the windows. Cars and bicycles weave through the streets and the wind is your constant companion. One can understand how Victorian-era steampunk is so engaging! With a little imagination the man in front of me becomes a cyborg, his cigarette a means of propulsion for his metal legs. The umbrella-toting lady clad in a red coat has her black shawl evolve into a spiderweb of body armour, and the heels of her stilettos morph into detachable knives. Her auburn hair is done up in a microfilament net, easily deployable into a cloak of silent death with a specifically coded flick of her head. Twin steampistols slung on her sashaying hips state her profession with understatedly elegant menace, as if the intentionally unconcealed vanes of her umbrella-blade was not enough of an indication: stylish yet practical. This femme fatale is a mercenary who brooks no interference, and if she’s interfering in your business it doesn’t say much for your future, prospects be damned.

Oh dear. My imagination has certainly been tickled. The tube has become mechanical creature-marvel, where techno-organic viruses have caused the giant predatory snakes that dominate the subterranean ecology of the Underground to form a symbiotic relationship with the carriages and the rails that bear them: these snakes have evolved to feed on kinetic energy and consider the concentration of movement in the emotional wavelength of so many people crowded on the Tube to be delicacy of sorts. Highly trained Tube drivers snare these creatures and bond them to their engines.

With the evolution of these snakes, the apex predator has disappeared and now the rats have become truly monstrous, feeding on pollution and gaining sentience that has rendered the government to declare any sewer sub-level below sub-level 8 to be a hazardous Red Zone: unfit for human habitation. Yet the bowels of the city have to be fed their daily diet of coal and river water, and an entire social system has erupted in a rather ramshackle manner in this underground gloom, centered on steampower engine centers as the nexus of this mini-civilization. Some of the denizens of the deep have never seen the light of day.

The people who walk on street-level are barely aware of the existence of this other world, so near yet so far. All the Street knows is that they are in between Sky and whatever is in the Lower Levels should be left undisturbed. In contrast the elite who live up on the superhabitats suspended a thousand meters above Street level, powered by the arcane might of synth-steam engines, great beasts of burden whose natural combustible products of their digestive systems have been turned to fuel the engines that keep the Skyhabs afloat and free of the pollution that rises from the waste-vents which stretch from the bowels of the Lower to giant, foul-smelling mouths on Street. The inhabitants of Sky are all too aware of what transpires beneath their Gothic glass spires, but frankly are only too glad for it to carry on. Luxury is easy to get used to.

Unfortunately while exploring the frontiers of my imagination I have momentarily lost focus on my physical location and hence have to get off the train to reorient myself :( Charlie, you did your job in the end!

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