The stage adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory was the topic of interest in this week’s opening episode of the new Channel 4 documentary series, The Sound of Musicals. Opening at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in June, the musical received mixed reviews from critics but the majority opinion fell on the side of a positive response; with its booking period having been extended into November 2014 and recently breaking the West End record for the highest reported weekly gross sales, clearly the show is doing something right. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is all about a young boy’s dreams coming true, and in The Sound of Musicals, the programme’s focus on some of the child stars who carry the production certainly showed how it has made their dreams come true. The older members of the company were once that young themselves however, and shared similar dreams of a career on the stage and one day making it in the West End. Ensemble member David Birch is one such performer who has realised his childhood dreams and is still reaching for the stars, which is why he features in this week’s In Profile.
David Birch spends most of his time here in London these days, but he grew up a little further south of the capital in Cambridge. That is where his early ambitions of a professional stage career first took root, growing and blossoming until he has finally found himself in the heart of the West End and performing in one of its biggest musical productions. His inclusion in the original company Charlie and The Chocolate Factory may be one of his highest achievements to date, but it is by no means his only. The road from Cambridge to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane took many twists and turns along the way and he has an assortment of theatre credits which came before his involvement in the weird and wonderful word of Willy Wonka.
Birch honed his craft in his home city of Cambridge. He spent 3 years with Cambridge Performing Arts, housed at the Bodywork Company Dance Studio, and graduated from the course with a National Diploma in Musical Theatre in 2005. Following his time there he spent the early years of his professional career touring around the UK with various theatrical productions, the first of which was a UK tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He played an ensemble role in the musical, which is based on the original 1954 film. He took another ensemble role after that, this time in a Broadway revival production of the long-standing hit musical 42nd Street which toured the UK between 2007 and 2008. Then it was onto Cameron Mackintosh’s UK tour of Mary Poppins where he appeared as part of the ensemble alongside original cast members Caroline Sheen, Daniel Crossley and Martin Ball.
Another classic musical was added to Birch’s resume after Mary Poppins when he continued his travels around the country by joining another UK tour production. Following its closure in the West End, the stage musical of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang embarked on a UK tour of which Birch became involved with in 2009 in an ensemble capacity. He was also offered the opportunity to understudy a more prominent character in the show, covering the role of the spy Goran.
Birch hung up his travelling boots after Mary Poppins and went on to make his West End debut in spectacular fashion at the renowned London Palladium. He was part of the original cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revived production of The Wizard of Oz, which cast Danielle Hope in the starring role of Dorothy through the BBC TV talent search show, Over The Rainbow. The cast also featured Michael Crawford as the Wizard, Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West and Emily Tierney as Glinda the Good Witch. Birch performed double-duty on the show, appearing in the ensemble and also as a ‘friend of Dorothy’ on occasion as understudy to the leading role of the Cowardly Lion/Zeke.
Firmly in the grasp of the West End now, he moved over to the Palace Theatre after The Wizard of Oz to appear in the revived production of another classic musical. He joined the West End cast of Singin’ in the Rain when it transferred into London after an acclaimed run at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Appearing alongside Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen, he performed an ensemble role in the show and also understudied several of the leading characters, including Sid Phillips, Cosmo, RF and Roscoe Dexter.
Now, still a West End resident, he has made his home at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane as part of the original cast of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory where he can be seen as one of the Oompa-Loompas. David Birch has certainly hit the golden ticket with his latest show; a talented performer, he certainly has what it takes to make all his dreams come true.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Saturday 16th November 2013