Theatre Review; The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall
PUBLISHED: 14:18 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:18 10 December 2018
An inventive production of John Masefield’s 30s fantasy children’s novel needs more brutal editing to truly shine
There’s an irrepresible Enid Blyton-eque derrring do to this fresh adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 fantasy novel.
It’s Narnia meets the Famous Five as young chap Kay Harker is despatched for the Christmas hols from boarding school to the creaky home of a dotty aunt.
He meets a mysterious Punch and Judy man on the train who hands him a magical box for safe keeping before joining friends Maria and Peter for muffins and cocoa.
Children’s writer Piers Torday relishes the ‘lashings of ginger pop’ dialogue while pushing it still further - Safiyya Ingar’s energetically tomboyish Maria not only totes a gun, but wins a contest with baddie Sylvia Daisy Porter to take it apart and reassemble it.
And far from a reassuring establisment figure, the policeman the children turn to is cluelessly unhelpful.
With its atmosphere of arrested decay, Wilton’s is the perfect setting for this old fashioned tale in which the children have to save Christmas from an evil villain who wants to lock up all the clergy so they don’t celebrate the festival.
There are even some delightful renditions of Victorian carols; In the Bleak Midwinter and God rest You Merry Gentlemen.
In Justin Audibert’s often imaginitive production, puppetry, projections and stage magic recreate the box’s magical properties, which allow the owner to shrink, fly, time travel, and experience the wonders inside it.
Tom Piper’s versatile set conjurs a swirling snowstorm, an enchanted wood and an watery dungeon on Wilton’s narrow stage from a pair of wardrobes and a projector.
Unfortunately Torday doesn’t overcome some dense, convoluted plotting which extends the running time to 2 hours 15.
There are one too many tedious scenes between villanous ancient philosopher Abner Brown and his vulpine cronies which do little to advance a plot that gets bogged down and confusing.
Less reverance and more pruning would have cleared the decks to distil this into a terrific magical adventure and for my money whenever the Maria was off stage, things fell a little flat.