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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

 

Review of The Box of Delights – 5 Stars

Delights

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.

Delights

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

 

 

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