Pictures: Manuel Harlan   

The Box of Delights

Royal Shakespeare Company



As we start to usher in the Christmas season, it was with relish that I took the kids to see The Box of Delights at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

I wasn’t sure how they would take to it, with John Masefield, the Poet Laureate and writer whose novel it was based upon, not really taught in schools today. The forefather of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis I was interested to see how they would react to a story which was relatively complex and yet completely unknown.

It helps of course when it is staged by the RSC at their beautiful Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Just the approach, as you see the twinkling lights emerge out of the darkness of the night, give you the feeling of entering another world – one that is full of magic and possibility.

That feeling is intensified as you take your seat – whilst they redeveloped the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2010 they’ve done a fantastic job in making you feel like you’re sitting within the fabric of theatre history – whilst you feel immediately at home, you also really do feel like you’re in the presence of greatness.


Barney the dog brought to life by Rhiannon Skerritt.

Once the action starts, you’re certain you are in the presence of greatness. One of the benefits of the thrust stage is that you feel immersed in the action and this feeling is amplified by the palpable class of the company as a whole. Front and centre are Stephen Boxer and Callum Bamforth who kick the play off as grandfather and grandson before their fantasy turns as Kay Harker and Cole Hawlings. They are the entrée to the world of fantasy that engulfs the audience in a really special production.

Every member of the company is top drawer – Jack Humphrey’s comedic turn as Peter is a delight, Tom Chapman’s scene chewing turn as Rat means you’re genuinely sad when he meets his demise, Melody Brown’s glee and angst as the Mayor raises a constant smile and Mae Munuo’s feisty Maria gives the production heart and drive, as well as a dose of modern thinking.

Of the baddies Richard Lynch’s Abner Brown sits somewhere between pantomime villain and Voldemort whilst his evil cohorts - Tom Kanji as Charles and Nana Amoo-Gottfried as Joe and the malevolent Nia Gwynne as Sylvia Daisy Pounder – tread the line between comedy and menace well. The rest of the cast are equally brilliant with some fantastic set pieces and puppetry, particularly Barney the dog – who was masterfully brought to life by Rhiannon Skerritt.

Added to the acting on stage there was also some wonderful live music and carols – stewarded by musical director Ben McQuigg and his eight piece orchestra. The carols, my first live dose this year, felt like a warm hug from someone you love.

The set, designed by Tom Piper and created by the RSC Workshops is both clever and also atmospheric – the underwater scenes being particularly impressive – aided by the Lighting of Prema Mehta and the video design of Nina Dunn and Matthew Brown.

At 2hrs 25minutes in length, including a 20 minute interval, it is not too long for a younger audience with suggested the age rating of 7+ about right too. My eight year old certainly enjoyed it and also kept up with the story – without the merest hint of fidgeting.

Both my kids have now asked for copies of John Masefield books – so it has definitely piqued their interest in an underrated author who is forever entwined in RSC folklore – having written a verse to Shakespeare for the official reopening of the theatre in 1932 – indeed the very first words spoken on the stage were Masefield’s not Shakespeare’s.

The production runs until Jan 7th and there are matinee performances and also a selection of performances which are a selection of captioned, handheld captioned, audio described, signed, relaxed and/or chilled performances.

Tickets are starting to go, so it is recommended to buy now to avoid disappointment – with prices start from £5 standing and there are price deals for RSC members as well as families they are good value for money to watch something special. Tickets can be bought HERE.

Overall, it is a lovely production which is perfect to get you in the Christmas mood.

Theo Clarke


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