John Masefield’s 1935 tale The Box of Delights is the Christmas gift of choice from the RSC this year.
While generations of children have been brought up on this festive tale, I was coming to it fresh, which I believe is no bad thing.
Not an advent calendar yet in sight, but Christmas is now well and truly in the air and it all started for me last night with this full-on family festive production.
Originally produced for Wilton’s Music Hall in 2017, Piers Torday’s reimagining of Masefield’s much-loved children’s classic tells the story of orphaned schoolboy Kay Harker who finds himself the guardian of a small wooden box with powers beyond his wildest dreams.
On a train on his way to spend Christmas with his guardian Caroline Louisa, Harker, played by Callum Balmforth, meets the mysterious Mr Hawlings, played by Stephen Boxer, who asks him to take charge of a small magical box known as The Box of Delights. Mr Hawlings confides in Kay that a villainous magician known as Abner Brown has been chasing him in a bid to steal the box.
Kay arrives home to be joined in his adventure by brother and sister duo Maria and Peter Jones, played by Mae Munho and Jack Humphrey who are also spending Christmas in the village of Condicote with Caroline Louisa.
Cole Hawlings – who is more than 1,000 years old – is striving to keep the box from his arch-enemy and rival philosopher, Abner Brown whose mission threatens Christmas itself. It comes down to Kay, Maria and Peter to save it – with the help of the magic box of course.
Wit and wonderment are abound whenever they’re on stage and there’s a clear chemistry in their performances. (Even if their relationship did feel reminiscent of the Famous Five at times!)
This is a pacy – and at times perplexing – adaptation of the story that has the potential to confuse newcomers to Masefield’s work. But, not unlike many RSC experiences, if you relax into it and let it take you on a journey, you’ll soon find your way.
But, for me, it’s off stage, where the real magic happens. This revived and emboldened version of the story has been most brilliantly enhanced, from flight and flood through to mythical creatures and mystical illusions, thanks to the innovative use of special effects and stagecraft which feeds effortlessly into our imaginations. What results is a dynamic journey of audio-visual mastery. An impressive spectacle indeed and not one to be missed.
Nothing says Christmas more than a magical festive production courtesy of the RSC. Bring on the mince pies. . .
The Box of Delights plays at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre until January 7th. Tickets are available here.
- I was gifted tickets to this production in exchange for a review containing my honest views.