Tag Archives: Tom Piper

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 Open House – 4 Stars


The Open House

Print Room at The Coronet

Reviewed – 25th January 2018


“cutting remarks are constantly crossing the line between sarcastic quips and genuine cruelty”


Will Eno’s play may be titled ‘The Open House’ but as soon as the lights go up it feels like anything but. The tense atmosphere where every question feels like a landmine is recognisable to anyone who’s ever suffered through a family gathering. “Why are we like this?” asks the nameless daughter repeatedly, but there is no dramatic revelation of a family secret to answer this question. Rather than build to a moment of explanation for their strained relationships, as so many family dramas do, this family slowly fades away as each member departs.

After each character finds an excuse to leave the stage the actors return in an entirely new guise. Lindsey Campbell does a fantastic job of switching from the nervous daughter to the slightly too comfortable estate agent who breezes in and takes control of the scene immediately. Though Crispin Letts’ two characters feel less distinct than the rest of the cast he comes across as incredibly warm and likeable throughout.

Greg Hicks is terrific to watch as the bitter patriarch of this fractured family. His cutting remarks are constantly crossing the line between sarcastic quips and genuine cruelty, the audience is laughing one moment and gasping the next. His physical frailty (we learn he has suffered a stroke) becomes more obvious as each of his own family members is replaced by these newcomers. No longer is he surrounded by people used to submitting to his bullying nature, and thus he loses any sense of strength he may have felt.

The reflection of this new and more ‘open’ atmosphere is reflected cleverly within the set (Tom Piper). As the estate agent hurries around rearranging everything, the family’s neutral suburban living room goes from stiff and unwelcoming to comfortable and inviting. A piece of wallpaper is stripped to reveal the bright pattern suffocated beneath all the beige and the blanket resting on the father’s wheelchair-bound knee is thrown over the sofa for a splash of colour.

As each actor returns as a new character the title takes on new meanings. These strangers are here to discuss the sale of the house, but their friendly and open natures also drain the toxic atmosphere that the first half has built up. Though most of these people have just met they treat each other with more kindness than any of the family members had done.

The ending was slightly confusing, and I struggled to understand what message Eno was trying to convey. Replacing each character with a more positive, vibrant version of themselves was a great theatrical device but having no conclusion for the family members we had begun with made me feel rather frustrated.

Eno has done well to provide a new take on such an established genre, and ‘The Open House’ is worth seeing just to witness the cast portray wildly different characters.


Reviewed by Ella McCarron

Photography by Simon Annand


The Open House

Print Room at The Coronet until 17th February



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