Tag Archives: Justin Audibert

The Box of Delights

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Box of Delights

The Box of Delights

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 5th December 2018


“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.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Nobby Clarke


The Box of Delights

Wilton’s Music Hall until 5th January


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com



The Cardinal

Southwark Playhouse

Opening Night – 28 April 2017


“An exceptional evening with a top quality cast”

The Southwark Playhouse has a reputation for staging lost musicals. Recent productions there have received rave reviews and played to full houses. So would audience reaction be to a show written some 375 years ago be a positive one? An emphatic yes. It is a must see show.

The Cardinal, a blood thirsty tragedy of lust and power was written in 1641 by James Shirley a year before theatres were closed by Oliver Cromwell at the outbreak of the Civil War. Modern productions of Shirley’s plays are rare so seeing it in 2017 is both an historic education and gift.

The story tells of a power hungry Cardinal and the recently widowed Duchess Rosaura.

Despite the King’s promise that the Duchess will be free to choose her next husband, she finds she has to marry the Cardinal’s nephew Columbo, whom she abhors. When Columbo is sent off to lead a military campaign the Duchess asks in a letter for him to release her. Columbo mistakenly thinks she is merely testing him, shows himself generous and does so.

In Columbo’s absence Rosaura claims the hand of the gallant Alvares whom she has secretly desired.

This sets up an intriguing mixture of revenge, bluff and counter bluff, feigned madness, happiness, sadness, a terrific sword fight and the odd death or two.

A strong cast of eleven gave faultless and word perfect performances. The titular role is played expertly by experienced actor Stephen Boxer who brings a ‘John Hurt’ feel to the role. It is a joy to watch Natalie Simpson as Rosaura, her credits for the Royal Shakespeare Company include King Lear and Hamlet. She commands the stage space bringing both laughter and tears in her performance. Jay Saihal brings to life the menacing character Columbo and Timothy Speyer is the funny and likeable Antonio.

There is strong direction from Justin Audibert and Anna Reid’s design is a stark set of grey stone which transports to viewer into what seems to be a cathedral nave and allows to audience to focus solely on the actors. The overall experience is enhanced by clever lighting and sound.

Overall this was an exceptional evening out in Southwark. To be able to experience a top quality cast in a 375 year old play in such intimate surroundings was rare. The production would not seem out of place at a larger venue and perhaps it does deserve a larger audience.


This highly recommended play is at The Southwark Playhouse until May 27th



Photography by – Mitzi de Margary