This world stage premiere of The Box of Delights, based on John Masefield’s original story is beautifully told – but could use a bit more pace and focus.
What would you do if you were given a magical box with special time travelling powers? It is a question that has endless possibilities but in the case of Kay Harker it has to be used to save Christmas and his friends against the wicked sorcerer Abner Brown who will stop at nothing to get the Box of Delights back.
This is the first time that John Masefield’s children story has been adapted to the stage and there is no denying (even though I have never read it) that Piers Torday has tried to keep as much of the book and the adventures of all of the characters in as much as possible to keep the spirit of the book alive. However, while this is certainly to be applauded it can be at times detrimental to keeping the attention of the younger members of the audience.
With its over two hour running time, Justin Audibert’s production needs plenty of pace, energy and magic to keep those aged six and above engaged. Although for the most part the production succeeds with moments such as the underwater sequence and the children transforming into animals really capturing the magic and the imagination, it can become slightly bogged down with the plot which could have been made slightly snappier.
However, despite this there are some very good elements to the production which requires plenty of imagination from the audience as well as Kay (hence why he is chosen to look after the Box of Delights by Cole Hawlings). The use of puppetry is brilliant, capturing the attention of the audience of all ages to great effect including flying cars, a phoenix and a wonderful puppet version of Kay that really help to highlight the key moments in the story.
But it is also the wonderful video designs by Nina Dunn that help to set the scene as well as capture the magic of what the Box of Delights is able to do – such as the appearance of the phoenix from the box or when the children enter a magical forest, you really get the sense of entering a whole new world.
There are some lovely performances to be enjoyed, not least Matthew Kelly as the mysterious Cole Hawlings and the nasty Abner Brown – both given plenty of personality and flamboyancy that make both characters a joy to watch come to life. Meanwhile, Safiyya Ingar as Mariah is brilliantly feisty and bold that can be in danger of coming across as too much in places but you can’t help but smile at her character’s self-confidence even when she is in danger. Alistair Toovey as Kay is the type of hero it is easy to root for – finding his courage when it is least expected and it is an endearing performance.
Overall, there are plenty of excellent ideas within this production but it needs to lighten up on the plot and let the magic of the Box of Delights truly shine out for added sparkle.
The Box of Delights continues to play at the Wilton’s Music Hall until the 6th January. For more information visit: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/365-the-box-of-delights.