Festive time-travel tale is a rather twee head-scratcher
The Box Of Delights (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Verdict: More Milk Tray than
Black Magic ★★★✩✩
PIERS TORDAY’S adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 festive fantasy brings it up to the here and now. In it Kay is spending Christmas with his grandpa after his parents’ separation. Clearly his notion of a merry Christmas is threatened.
Good old Grandad takes him up to the attic with a Narnia-esque wardrobe and dares Kay to dream. Out of this wardrobe springs Cole Hawlings (Stephen Boxer, doubling as Grandad), a showman who mutters that ‘the wolves are running’. He gives Kay an enchanted box with the power to ‘save Christmas’.
So begins Kay’s mission. A journey by steam train, wonderfully suggested by projections of a moonlit, snowy English countryside, hurtles our hero back to pre-war England. In this reality, he’s an orphan who wears tweed breeches.
It’s an odd story: part battle between goodies and baddies in the C. S. Lewis mould, part 1930s gangster movie (thieves who turn out to be the wolves of the
piece), lurching back in time to a pagan Britain peopled by antlered folk… and forward to a robotic talking head.
Nothing makes much sense. ‘Time travel gives me a headache,’ says Peter, Kay’s ReesMoggish cousin, a sweet, wet fellow still in short trousers who would prefer to be eating chocolate creams. He has a point.
There’s an old- fashioned tweeness about Justin Audibert’s production, which seems determined to play things safe. It has moments of enchantment — a phoenix brooch, with glistening eyes and gilded wings, is brought to life by puppeteers. But this is a spark of magic in an (alas) merely mildly entertaining show.