MEET THE NEW WILLY WONKA

This Season: Isabel Lloyd's theatre highlight brings together the star of "La Cage aux Folles" and the director of "Skyfall"

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013

When you talk to Douglas Hodge, two things hit you. The full-beam vividness of his blue eyes (always a useful colour for an actor), and the many expression lines etched in his face. You can divine his career in those lines. For most of the first half of his acting life, his frown got the workout. He spent much of the 1990s up to the hilt in Harold Pinter’s menacing bastards. For light relief he turned in a terrifying Leontes in "The Winter’s Tale", and a trapped, shallow-souled Dr Lydgate in the BBC "Middlemarch". But since 2005, when he was given "one sort-of-talky song" as Nathan Detroit in the West End revival of "Guys and Dolls", he has been exercising his smile lines, taking on ever more genial and playful roles. An Olivierand Tony-winning turn as the cross-dressing Albin in "La Cage aux Folles" was followed by a Cyrano de Bergerac that was twinkly to the point of mania. Now Sam Mendes has cast him as Willy Wonka in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

So will it be song lines from now on? Maybe. He admits to having been "snobby about musicals" as a young man. But he is also itching to play Fagin: "I was incredibly excited watching Ron Moody when I was about 12". He has his eye on Barnum too. And of all the performers he’s worked with, it seems to be dancers he has the most respect for: "they never moan, they never complain, they just work and work". Bring on the chorus lines.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Theatre Royal, London, from May 17th

THEATRE AT A GLANCE

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable (London, June 20th to Sept 29th).
The theatrical event of the season isn’t, strictly speaking, theatre. Felix Barrett’s Punchdrunk returns with a three-hour "journey" through an as-yet-unannounced venue, taking Georg Büchner’s unfinished masterpiece "Woyzeck" and transposing its themes of jealousy, illusion and life in the underbelly to the seamier edges of La-La Land.

The Hothouse
(Trafalgar Studios, London, May 4th to Aug 3rd).
Jamie Lloyd’s stint at the Trafalgar got off to a bloody marvellous start, with James McAvoy as a gore-drenched, battle-traumatised, properly moving Macbeth. Now Lloyd continues his study of power and its abuses with Simon Russell Beale and John Simm tormenting each other in Pinter’s asylum play.

Let the Right One In (Dundee Rep, June 5th-29th).
Laurie Sansom’s first move as artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland is a smart one for a cold northern country: a stage adaptation of a cult Swedish vampire movie with a heart. The director is John Tiffany of "Black Watch", so expect blood, snow and not a sniff of RPatz.

Chimerica (Almeida, London, May 20th to July 6th).
In "NSFW", Lucy Kirkwood took entertaining aim at the media’s fondness for presenting women as either shoppers or sexpots. Here she uses a thrillerish plot to point her guns at bigger targets—post-Tiananmen China and American unease about the world’s tilt to the east.

To Kill a Mocking Bird (Regent’s Park Open Air, London, from May 16th).
A GCSE-friendly season in the park this year, with Harper Lee's curriculum stalwart followed by "Pride & Prejudice" and "The Winter’s Tale". Once exams are over, the singing starts: "The Sound of Music" begins on July 25th.

Isabel Lloyd is deputy editor of Intelligent Life

Illustration Kathryn Rathke