“this spirited show in London Bridge is going to bring a smile to a good many people’s faces over the next few weeks”
Oscar Wilde’s 1887 short story is given a 21st century makeover at one of the capital’s leading theatres for young audiences.
Diplomat Hiram Otis is posted to England with his rabble family. They rent an old Gothic mansion that turns out to have a resident ghost, one Sir Simon Canterville. Attempts to spook the Otis’s by Sir Simon are ignored by the streetwise New Yorkers and this ghost who has been looking for a resting place for over three hundred years is in utter despair, until baby of the family Virginia, takes him seriously, listens to him and helps solve the riddle that will allow him to rest in peace.
This tale is presented with the aid of illusion and magic, Sir Simon having his head under his arm, objects appearing and disappearing, flying furniture and even a body being sawn in half. A simple set (Rosie Elnile) consisting of a blood stained carpet, two large tables and a model house symbolising the mansion are all utilised to the maximum and moved about with an impressive slickness. Lighting (Prema Mehta) is immensely impressive, the windows in the model house all lighting up and the illusions neatly disguised.
This is a highly amusing adaptation, every neatly constructed line seems to contain no words with less than six syllables and the characterisations are pitched perfectly for a young audience, with the humour appreciated greatly by the children, without it being childish. This is a thoughtfully directed piece by Justin Audibert, a huge amount of energy has been injected into the play and so much of the action is delivered with a real flourish.
All the cast are strong, the twin boys, played by girls (Rose-Marie Christian & Mae Munuo) always in unison, Nathaniel Wade enthusiastically playing elder son Washington who is inventing a hat containing an umbrella and Safiyya Ingar charming as green fingered Virginia. Maple syrup loving Dad (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) and interior designed obsessed Mum (Beth Cordingly) are spot on with their relationship and handling of their slightly troublesome offspring. Paul McEwan has a ball playing Sir Simon, I was concerned that the way he slurs a lot of his lines could make it difficult for youngsters, who are hanging on his every word, to decipher what he’s saying. Annie Fitzmaurice as the Scottish housemaid is a positive delight, it was like lifting Private Frazer from Dad’s Army into a female body, all doom, gloom and threats of varicose veins, she was hilarious.
The pace slackened a little in the second act, but the packed audience, consisting mainly of children, absolutely loved it. The young lad sitting next to me rushed back from the interval and announced that he couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
With Unicorn’s magic and a ghost, I think that this spirited show in London Bridge is going to bring a smile to a good many people’s faces over the next few weeks and is perfect material for all the family.
“this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn”
To arrive at Wilton’s on a dark winter’s night is to open a veritable box of delights even before the performance begins. There is something magical about making your way there; about the lights streaming from the windows of this shabby-genteel 19th century frontage in an otherwise sparsely-lit patch of East London. Stepping inside is like stepping into an alternative reality; a feeling compounded yesterday evening by the delicious, festive smell of Christmas spices. All this served as the perfect introduction to Piers Torday’s theatrical adaption of John Masefield’s classic children’s book, The Box of Delights.
The book, written in 1935, tells the story of Kay Harker – orphaned in a fire six years prior to the action – and his extremely adventurous few days staying with his guardian and two other children in the run up to Christmas. In time-honoured Edwardian fashion, the three children are left alone and have to foil the Machiavellian machinations of some dangerous adults and save the day. This time, dark magic is on the loose, and nothing less than the future of Christmas itself is at stake. To add to the fun, Masefield also sprinkles the book with references to some of the zeitgeisty thrills of the thirties – a gang of jewel thieves, machine guns and jazz.
As evidenced by the extraordinary success of the Harry Potter stories, magic has not lost its power to entrance, and this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn. Tom Piper’s production design is terrific, and the lighting (Anna Watson), video (Nina Dunn) and sound (Ed Lewis) work together in perfect harmony to immerse us in the story’s captivating blend of wonder, menace and Christmas cheer. So much of this production’s success depends on the element of surprise, that too much description would be detrimental to its power to entertain, but suffice it to say that some of the show’s most memorable moments involve Samuel Wyer’s marvellous puppet design. The puppets are fabulous in themselves, and are brought to life by the cast in some unexpected ways throughout the evening. Special mention must go here to Molly Roberts’ wonderful skill in bringing Cole Hawlings’ frisky terrier so perfectly to life.
The eight-strong cast perform with brio throughout, and drive the play forward with a tremendous amount of appeal and energy, which helps to cover the occasional moments in which the script loses pace. Theo Ancient’s Kay, though occasionally over-earnest, is a likeable lad, and Samuel Simmonds is splendid as the sweet but slightly swotty Peter. Sara Stewart excels in the double role of Pouncer and Caroline Louisa – alternately oozing evil sex appeal and emanating slightly dotty charm – and Nigel Betts’ truly frightening Abner Brown provides the drama with a necessary dose of tangible menace.
The production is very much one of two halves, with the post-interval half substantially less wondrous and frightening than the first, and with many more nods to panto. This shift in balance seems rather a shame, and also somewhat takes away from the impact of the play’s denouement, but this is a small quibble. Overall, Justin Audibert (director) and his talented team have created a shimmering enchantment of a show, perfect for a Christmas treat.