Review: The Box of Delights
The Box of Delights is based on a novel by John Masefield and was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1984. The BBC adaptation is my personal connection to this story. Every Christmas I would sit down with my Granma to watch it, and it was a delight to be able to take my Granma to see this production with me. For those that are not familiar with the story, it is one of the original fantasy novels, published in 1935, and shaped the way for the likes of Narnia, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It tells the story of Kay Harker who returns to stay with his Guardian from boarding school for the holidays. He befriends a Punch and Judy man, Cole Hawlings, who turns out to be a magician who is running from a fellow magician, Abner Brown. Cole entrusts his magical Box of Delights to Kay and thus begins to the adventure for Kay and his friends.
Although so much of the play is set in its time, they bring it back to modern day, by having a Grandad tell the story to his Grandson. The production is adapted by Piers Torday. Personally, I think this is unnecessary, but I can understand how it may help younger members of the audience connect to the piece. It’s directed by Justin Audibert, and the set is made up of a collection of old furniture, designed by Tom Piper. The staging worked well to allow the moments of magic to occur. When the stage opens to create a forest is one of the most wonderful moments of the play. However, the magic can’t compete with the likes of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- but it works in its own low-key way. The use of puppets for example, when they become small.
My pet peeve is adults playing children, and I do feel that they could have cast children in this production. However, I did manage to look past this to enjoy Callum Balmforth’s performance as Kay, Mae Munuo as Maria and Jack Humphrey as Peter. Munuo in my opinion was the standout of the children, it is so nice to see such a strong female lead. Humphrey is also hilarious as Peter, and Balmforth is a very charismatic lead to the children. Stephen Boxer plays the iconic role of Cole and does so with a level of majestical mysteriousness. Opposite Boxer is the role of Abner is Richard Lynch, who portrays the villain of the production. One of the most memorable characters from the TV series is Rat, and he is portrayed by Tom Chapman. I would have loved to have seen more of Rat in this production, however, I understand the need to cut it down to make it work for a theatre production.
One of the most famous phrases from the story is “The Wolves are Running”, however, there is no moment when wolves appear. It is one of the most powerful imagery used in the book and the TV series. Although they did sell cuddly wolf toys in the Royal Shakespeare Company gift shop. In general, it was a very good production, it just didn’t blow me away. As somebody who is not a fan of pantomimes, I am a big fan of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s alternatives every year. However, I would love more magic from next year’s production.
- Show title: The Box of Delights
- Venue: Royal Shakespeare Theatre
- Review date: 4th January 2024