The Box of Delights
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 7th December 2017
“I sat in a sea of bewitched adults and wide-eyed children”
If anything was going to make me feel festive, Wilton’s Music Hall was the perfect place to start. Having passed through the characterful entrance into the vaulted ceilings and the bare charm of the auditorium, I felt I was stepping into a bygone Christmas card: a twinkling fir tree, the church-like surrounding balcony, and the choral music evoking a Carol concert.
Over 80 years ago Poet John Masefield wrote this enchanting story. It has the feel of folklore and fairy tale yet holds many modern elements: Time travel for the Doctor Who lovers. Flying vehicles for the Harry Potter fans. Talking animals for the C.S. Lewis classicists. Good magicians … bad sorcerers … somewhat Lord of the Rings …? All packaged up in a boy’s struggle to find the courage and skill to ensure that evil does not overpower good.
Kay Harper (played by Alistair Toovey) is our young hero guarding the mysterious box for an elusive Punch & Judy man who is desperate to keep it out of the wicked hands of sorcerer Abner Brown (both parts played wonderfully by Matthew Kelly) who desperately wants the magical box and its amazing secrets for himself. The uneven battle is on. Kay with his playmates Mariah & Peter (enthusiastically played by Safiyya Ingar and Samuel Simmonds) and Abner with his witch of a wife (played with a sinister calmness by Josefina Gabrielle) and vicious hangers on (including a duplicitous performance by Tom Kanji – who is also the ineffective police officer of the piece!)
This adaptation for stage by Piers Torday is beautifully done, with a scattering of jokes and jibes that only the adults get. Puppets. Music. Video. Parachute quantities of fabric. Movement and poise. With light and images keeping your eye focused to avoid the slight of hand.
I liked the way the 1930s costumes blended into the theatre making me feel we had ourselves, travelled back in time. Designer Tom Piper’s draped set is amazingly versatile and blends into the ‘shabby chic’ restoration surrounding the stage making the seated patrons feel they are part of the stage. The use of projected imaging added a cinematic feel and afforded blizzards, magnificent creatures, raging infernos and further amazing effects from video designer Nina Dunn.
The cast all give brilliant performances, balancing a timeless, classic children’s story on the good side of old fashioned, and the comedy moments the right side of farce.
I sat in a sea of bewitched adults and wide-eyed children who gasped, giggled and clung to their adults in anticipation. Their silence throughout the performance said it all – if you can hold their attention so solidly you are doing something very right indeed. With festive music (Ed Lewis) interwoven and humorous laugh out loud moments from both the children and the villainous pursuers, everyone watched with smiles on their faces.
Steering away from vaudeville style pantomime, this seasonal production is the perfect alternative for children and adults of all ages and not to be missed. This show is exactly what it says it is: A Box of Delights, an early Christmas gift, festooned in magic and mystery which sparkles when opened. Unwrap it now!
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Alastair Muir
The Box of Delights
is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 6th January