REVIEW: The Box of Delights (Wilton’s Music Hall) ★★★

In the decked out and inherently beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall, Hero Productions present The Box of Delights. Adapted from the 1935 fantasy novel by John Masefield, the story follows a young boy, Kay Harker through a wild Christmas adventure. After meeting a magician on the way home for Christmas break, he is lent the ‘Box of Delights’; a time-travelling device which the magician’s nemesis has his eyes firmly fixed on stealing. Kay must protect the box against all odds and learn a thing or two about the history of his parent’s death along the way.

The theatre whole-heartedly embodies the show, offering unusual food in the restaurant such as a posset dessert which is referenced several times throughout the story. The programme is a fully detailed newspaper, ‘The Tatchester Times’ which includes games and ‘news items’. It is refreshing and heartwarming to see a venue throw so much time, effort and imagination into supporting its show.

The set, designed by Tom Piper, is at first completely covered by sheets which when sporadically pulled away, reveal a rather clumpy series of brown wardrobes. Aside from providing a means of hiding characters to then pop in and out of different scenes, the wardrobes seem to dominate the majority of the stage with an un-suited dullness. However, several interludes of impressive puppetry and lighting tricks break up the monotony of brown wood. A particular highlight is at the end of the show when a huge blue sheet pours from the top of the stage to represent the sea. Indeed, this technique is used commonly to represent water, but certainly built atmosphere at the climax of the story.

It is a shame, considering the evident passion behind the show, that it just isn’t deeply enjoyable. The actors gallantly navigate a lengthy and arduous piece so heaving with dialogue. Safiyya Ingar does a particularly admirable job of playing Mariah with boundless energy and charisma. Alistair Toovey, who plays protagonist Kay, does so with suitable meekness and Olivier Award Winner Matthew Kelly juggles Cole Hawkings and Abner Brown with notable expertise. The script, written by Children’s novelist Piers Torday, was difficult to follow despite its brazenly context-explaining nature. Attempts to pack in a whole other world suffocate the audience’s enjoyment of the characters and their interactions with each other which are one of the only injections of humour throughout the piece. The rapid pace leaves audience members bewildered and once you’ve lost the thread of the story, no time is allocated to catch up.

As the story falls to the wayside, the cast and venue really are a credit to this production and certainly invoke Christmas cheer. The Box of Delights is not necessarily a delight but may capture the imagination of those who have read the novel or know the story from when it was broadcast on the BBC back in dusty old 1984.

Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
Photo: Alastair Muir