“The last time I was on stage in Manchester I walked off at the end in just a pair of boots and my socks,” laughs Gareth Snook. “I can assure you I won’t be subjecting audiences to that this time.”

It is 20 years since the acclaimed West End star was in the city as part of a touring production of The Full Monty.

Now he’s heading back as the iconic Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical which comes to the Palace Theatre next week.

Based on the classic Roald Dahl story, Gareth play the eccentric factory owner who welcomes winners of the Golden Ticket into his strange world.

Lancashire Telegraph: Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Picture: Johan Persson)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factor regularly appears in the lists for children’s favourite reads but Gareth admits that he had never read the book as a child.

“I really don’t know why that is,” he said. “We had most other books at home. I must ask my elder brother why we didn’t have any Roald Dahl books.

“The first time I read it was when I was offered the role.

“But I had seen the movie versions starring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp. I’m a huge fan of Gene Wilder and people who have been to see the show say that there is more Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp in my Willy Wonka.”

But Gareth has been determined to bring his own interpretation to the role on stage.

“It’s funny because even if you have not read the book or not seen the film everybody thinks that they know Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“Because Willy Wonka is such an iconic character everyone has expectations of him but this going to be my interpretation at end of day.

“I have to take care of him and decide what he is like. I also have to protect him as very often he’s misunderstood and misrepresented.”

As with all Roald Dahl’s great character Willy Wonka has a dark side. Children getting their Golden Ticket tour around his chocolate factor often come to some, literally, sticky ends.

“Oh, you don’t mess with Willy Wonka,” laughed Gareth, “if you do that’s at your peril. But that’s part of his character. Yes, he revels in the kids when they get into a spot of trouble. He doesn’t take any prisoners but he has warned them not to do things and they still do which has consequences. I love him; I’ve fallen in love with Willy Wonka. He’s a marvellous person.”

Gareth comes to Manchester with well over 200 shows under his belt as Willy Wonka which has made him realise so much about the show.

Lancashire Telegraph: Gareth Snook as Willy Wonka with the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Picture: Johan Persson)

“Among many things is that I discovered quite quickly that the audience is just as important as the families Willy Wonka shows around his factory,” he said. “The audience become the Golden Ticket winners as well so I address them directly and I take them on the same journey. A lot of what I do on stage is done very direct to the audience.

“Willy Wonka has a wicked sense of humour but he’s unpredictable and you have got to let the audience fall in love with him and trust him to take them on this journey because at times his social skills aren’t great. But then he’s not seen another human being for 40 years in our production so you can forgive him for that.”

Certainly audiences, like Gareth, have fallen in love with Willy Wonka.

“I know people always go on about being in a real family show,” said Gareth, “but honestly, that’s exactly what this production is. There is some really sophisticated humour which adults appreciate and the younger audience just lap it up.

“They love seeing other kids get in trouble for being naughty or these entitled children getting into a spot of bother and getting their comeuppance.Then there’s the set we have, which is just spectacular. They are transfixed by it. I wish I was out there as a child watching it.”

Although this will be only the third show Gareth has brought to Manchester in a long career - he starred in the musical Martin Guerre as well as The Full Monty - he has a strong connection to the city.

“One of my first jobs after leaving drama school was at the Library Theatre,” he said. “It was probably around 1982 and I came up to do a couple of shows and ended up staying 10 months!

“I loved it, it was glorious. That was back in the days when you could go into rep and it’s really where I learned my craft.

“The first thing we did was a rock opera version of the Merchant of Venice, I did a Christmas show, we did plays, we did everything. It was a fantastic experience.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Gareth Snook

From there Gareth has starred in Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Sunset Boulevard, My Fair Lady and Aspects of Love - all in London’s West End.

But now he’s on tour bringing Willy Wonka to packed theatres around the UK.

“It is exhausting, it’s probably hardest role ever done,” he said, “and I don’t even come on stage until the very end of the first act. But he hits the ground running with a five minute song and then I’m never off stage for the second act.

“I’ve never looked after myself so much in all my life. But it’s a fabulous role and what I really like is that without an audience Willy Wonka doesn’t exist. He relies on the audience so much, he talks to them directly and they are a character in themselves.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, July 11 to Saturday, July 30. Details from www.atgtickets.com