Tag Archives: Simon Pittman

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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Distance – 4 Stars

Distance

Distance

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 7th September 2018

★★★★

“The throbbing backwards and forwards motion of the set pieces, metaphorically becomes the walls of Steven’s mind”

 

‘Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK’. So the statistic emblazoned within the programme of new show Distance declares. It is certainly an issue that needs to be extensively addressed, which, collaborators Alex McSweeney and Simon Pittman successfully achieve with their new production. Distance precisely depicts the struggles of one man and his mental health, effectively portraying what so many feel on the inside, but can never be fully understood. McSweeney was compelled to write about this ‘invisible illness’ after five people he knew killed themselves in just over five years. All male. The passion and dedication to get under the skin of this disease is so very apparent. But there is no preaching a cause here. Distance efficaciously negotiates being laugh-out-loud entertaining and heartbreakingly honest within a matter of moments.

Steven (Adam Burton) has been going through a dark time of late. Recently separated, and on the verge of getting a divorce from his wife (Lindsay Fraser), he serendipitously bumps into an old friend (Abdul Salis) whilst on the train to a job interview. On the surface, Steven is friendly and engaged in this rather banal encounter, yet, deep down, he is spiralling into the dark, troubled inner depths of his mind and being. We find him frantically trying to makes sense of the chaotic world around him and his place within it. Action abstractly flits from the present, to being taken on a trip to the inside of Steve’s head, hearing, and physically seeing, the unrestrained, and often, disturbing feelings that he is currently enduring.

Burton delivers a hard-hitting and truthful portrayal of the how it must be like to have a “black dog” inside you, as his character Steven describes it. With nuanced ease he conveys swinging between functioning normally on the outside and then demonstrating quick flickers of the pain and turmoil on the inside – the double-edged sword of depression. The rest of the cast offer tremendous backup in their supporting roles, providing either lighter relief or painful context for Steven’s struggles.

The cherry on top is the ingenious set design from Bethany Wells, which feels like a character in itself. The throbbing backwards and forwards motion of the set pieces, metaphorically becomes the walls of Steven’s mind, gradually enclosing on him at a claustrophobic rate and then easing out again as he tries to feel and act ‘normal’.

Distance offers an excellent examination on mental health issues, raising a red flag on how it can affect not just the person themselves, but the loved ones around them, as well as intimating the pressures our society implements on us all. Particularly, the sense of there being a universal crisis of masculinity. Powerful and thought-provoking yet enjoyably accessible. A winning combination for bringing much needed awareness to a deeply serious matter.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Richard Davenport

 


Distance

Park Theatre until 29th September

 

 

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