Tag Archives: Samuel Wyer

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


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The Trench – 3 Stars


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 16th October 2018


“a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep”


As the only tunneller awarded a Victoria Cross in the First World War, William Hackett provides inspiration, storyline and main character (renamed Bert) for this play by Oliver Lansley. Despite his heart condition, Hackett enlisted in late 1915. A few months later he was denied leave to visit his 14-year-old son, who had lost a leg in a mining accident. Then, on 22nd June 1916, he was trapped underground with four comrades by a German mine blast. Over several days he helped rescue three but died going back for the last.

In this already cheerless saga, the amputation is replaced by news from home of a baby lost in childbirth, heightening perhaps Bert’s motivation to save his much younger colleague. To ramp up the melodrama further, the journey unfolds via a solid hour of iambic pentameter, spoken mostly by Bert (Lansley himself) as he scrapes and writhes through a claustrophobic set, aided by the multiple stage skills of Edward Cartwright, James Hastings and Kadell Herida, who play his comrades. The entombed ensemble is accompanied by the brooding presence stage left of the show’s composer Alexander Wolfe riffing dolefully on guitars, with sad melodies on sundry instruments occasionally aided by the multi-talented Hastings.

If this sounds unremittingly gloomy, it is. On the upside, The Trench is the work of Les Enfant Terribles, a theatre company with its own brand of showmanship and production design. Samuel Wyer provides an explosion of visual ideas and techniques, which provide the energy needed for an otherwise plodding tale. Shadow puppetry is used especially well to depict sepulchral columns of doomed troops; high tension wires and projections combine to create a cinematic overhead camera effect as Bert stumbles through the mire of the battlefield. The team also depicts the horrors that Bert encounters with a series of demonic puppets resembling the rotting carcasses of rats and horses, culminating in a red dragon, a reference to the Red Dragon crater by which the area is still known.

It’s hard to think what William Hackett would make of all this. Most likely he would enjoy the technical flair along with everyone else and may have recognised, too, the Music Hall style rhyming monologue, sustained from ‘A species on extinction’s brink’ all the way through to ‘The flickering flame of fate has faded’. Hackett might even have recognised Oliver Lansley’s actor-manager function but if so, probably wouldn’t have recognised himself. Hackett’s photos online suggest a less commanding figure than the one portrayed and a more vulnerable performance would have raised the emotional engagement hugely.

The glorification of WW1’s futile sacrifices can become a divisive subject especially at this time of year, but there’s no escaping that this is a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Rah Petherbridge


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse until 17th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bananaman | ★★★ | January 2018
Pippin | ★★★★ | February 2018
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018
The Sweet Science of Brusing | ★★★★ | October 2018


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