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The Box of Delights - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Disclaimer: ticket was gifted in return for an honest review.

Credited as the first children’s fantasy novel John Masefield’s The Box Of Delights has been enjoyed by readers for nearly 100 years and has had radio, television and stage adaptions. The Royal Shakespeare Company mount a new production of the story under director Justin Audibert.

Jack Humphrey as Peter, Callum Balmforth as Kay and Mae Munuo as Maria. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Audibert previously directed a smaller production at Wilton’s Music Hall. Here is afforded a bigger scale to play with and a bigger budget to make his vision happen. 

The fantasy tale centres around young Kay Harper who is drawn into a battle between two powerful magicians who seek the powerful Box of Delights. It’s up to Kay to save the day and ultimately Christmas. 

It’s quite a complex piece with a variety of strands of the story playing out. It can get a tad confusing at times, especially the second act. What the production does superbly though is completely sweep you along for the journey. 

It’s not hard to see how Masefield’s story would have inspired the fantasy novels that follows, there’s magicians and magic that makes you feel Narnia, Middle Earth and Hogwarts may have found some of their inspiration here. There’s even a flying car à la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Plot strands do get a little messier after the interval and the production does lose a bit of the momentum it’s built in the first half. It gets a bit tricky to work out some of the characters motives, did they want the box and what purpose was the box actually serving to those who wanted it became the talk as we exited the theatre as well as what actually happened to certain characters at the end.

Visually the set like the box itself opens to reveal itself bit by bit. Tom Piper’s design uses multiple wardrobes to create different levels as well as entrances or exits. The use of projections helps create the variety of locations from train ride at the beginning to all the places required. Nina Dunn and Matthew Brown’s video design is tremendous throughout. It all comes to its best moments as we meet Janet Etuk’s Herne The Hunter as luscious greens unfold. 

The design further impactful due to Prema Mehta’s lighting which helps drive the action along. Further atmosphere is created through composer Ed Lewis’ score that is played live by the excellent RSC musicians and the crystal clear sound design by Claire Windsor. 

The company of The Box of Delights. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Callum Balmforth’s performance of Kay Harker is the glue that holds the production together. He navigates the role with ease and is instantly likeable. He is aided well by Mae Munuo as Maria Jones and an outstanding Jack Humphrey as Peter Jones. The three form a lovely connection.

Stephen Boxer is warm as Grandad and as magician Cole Hawlings creating a lovely relationship with Balmforth’s Harker that sets the plot away as they meet on a train where the box is given to Harker. Richard Lynch contrasts as Abner Brown, the more villainous of the magicians, it does border on pantomime villain but Lynch straddles that line and gives and effective performance.

Tom Kanji as Charles and Nana Amoo-Gottfried as Joe are two henchmen that disguise themselves as vicars with a strong Claire Price deliciously plays Sylvia Daisy Pouncer.

It’s not a perfect production but there’s wonderment to be found in the brilliant surroundings of RST with this festive magical production that will draw you right in. A thrill ride for all ages.


The Box of Delights continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre playing until Sunday 7th January. Tickets are available from

Richard Lynch as Abner Brown and Claire Price as Sylvia Daisy Pouncer. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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