The Box of Delights at The RSC Review by Alice Drury

Travelling through trains and time, combating wolves and magicians, ‘Box of Delights’ peruses the challenges to family life and Christmas spirit. Originally written by John Masefield, this work was brought to life under the direction of Justin Audibert and the artistic talent of RSC Associate Artist Tom Piper. With magical splendour to enchant the children and contemporary witticism to charm adults, this experience unites all ages in the key messages of love and festivities. As the imaginative orphan Kay Harker (played by Callum Balmforth) travels to stay with his aunt and cousins for christmas, he faces tricksters and vicars, mysterious magicians and a yapping dog. With the assistance of boisterous Maria and Peter ‘the plank’ (played by Mae Munuo and Jack Humphrey respectively), Kay must delve to the painful depths of his past, cast spells that enable him to reach the smallest nooks and greatest heights, and look a sly wolf in the eye. With the future of Christmas in danger, can he turn the hands of clocks and protect the magical Box of Delights from a most ancient evil?

Using expressionism to set the scene, Tom Piper effectively turned the stage into a plethora of experiences: a warm fireside, a rattling train, and watery depths of rippling blue. The live orchestra added an enthralling quality to each scene, reflecting the enthused atmosphere of the audience. The use of puppetry by Samuel Wyer and ensemble cracked smiles with bounding Barney the dog and ignited the stage with the flame of a phoenix. Their capacity to fly and swim consistently enraptured the audience, and as each cloth covering was removed, a unique prop was revealed to develop a new world before our eyes.

Upon entering, I found myself held by curiosity at the sight of a shrouded stage with a looming cabinet alone in the centre. From this cabinet, throughout the play, a variety of characters entered, and it became a portal of possibilities and suspense. Absorbed by this performance, my emotions were a concoction of feverish thrill and hypnotic wonder as the lights and music swung like a pendulum, invoking both laughter and heartbreak. I felt touched by their ability to convey personal difficulties yet leave me with my heart warmed and a festive mindset. I initially found the expressive and energetic actors a little overdone, but it held my attention as they traversed all levels of the stage, from ceiling to trapdoors. The glowing phoenix, flying aeroplane-car, and the shining Box of Delights truly lightened my evening. I would recommend this play to people of all ages as the amusing Peter appealed to the dry british humour I revel in whilst ebullient Kay reached out to my younger self; each character connected to a part of my being and achieved an overall feeling of gaiety and merriment!

Photo credit Manuel Harlan (for the RSC)

Alice Drury is a member of Young Reviewers in the Shire, a new project produced by Creative Pathways in the Shire, which offers young people under the age of 30 an opportunity to attend arts and cultural events, review them and have their reviews published. To find out more and join the scheme, please email

If you’d like to find out more about the production at The RSC and book tickets please visit The RSC website: Royal Shakespeare Company | RSC

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The Box of Delights at The RSC Review by Heather Sykes