Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall

“The wolves are running, Kay Harker”

There’s a wonderfully rough magic to Justin Audibert’s production of The Box of Delights that makes it the perfect choice for Wilton’s Music Hall’s festive show. And it is one that will have extra resonance for those of a generation similar to my own, whose childhood TV watching centred on a VHS copy of the 1984 TV adaptation, whose use of graphics and green screen hasn’t necessarily aged all that well (see around 14.30)…

The nods to the occasional naffness of that design (a car that turns into an aeroplane!) were much appreciated but such is the warmth and wit of the theatrical invention here, that it is hard not to be won over by Piers Torday’s adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 fantasy novel whether you’re familiar with it or not. And though it flirts with the odd sinister undertone, the abiding feel is one of adventurous derring-do and festive cheer, fit for whatever family you have around you.

Set in the depths of Christmas 1938, we’re in the world of plum puddings and hot possets, where schoolboy Kay Harker finds his journey home from boarding school disrupted by falling into the middle of a battle between two mighty magicians. Given the precious Box of Delights by one of them, he’s charged with protecting it – and by extension, the very future of Christmas itself – but little can prepare him for the magical power that is contained within. Continue reading “Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

National treasure Matthew Kelly and West End superstar Josefina Gabrielle are to star in the brand-new stage adaptation of The Box of Delights, possibly the creepiest children’s tv show ever and one which is indeliby etched on my psyche. This original production is the first time Poet Laureate John Masefield’s festive classic has been reimagined for the stage, and will be brought to life by an ensemble cast in the gloriously Christmassy surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.
 
Joining Kelly and Gabrielle as part of the stellar cast will be Mark Extance, Safiyya Ingar, Tom Kanji, Samuel Simmonds, Rosalind Steele and Alistair Toovey.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Correspondence, Old Red Lion

“This isn’t bunking off to Stockport, to play Laser Quest at Grand Central. This is the kind of activity that sets us apart from the dross.”

And what activity it is. Clever enough to not really need to revise for his upcoming GCSEs, 16-year-old Ben spends most of his spare time on Xbox Live but when his Syrian friend Jibreel disappears from his contact list, he decides to launch a rescue mission from his Stockport bedroom. But it’s not quite as simple as all that, Torn between squabbling divorced parents, Ben’s home life has been significantly troubled and as it is 2011, the murmurings of civil unrest abroad herald what would soon be known as the Arab Spring.

Lucinda Burnett’s Correspondence thus straddles two immensely weighty subjects. The power and potential of mass protest in a nascent revolution and how we connect to it as global citizens, but also the complexity and cruelty of incipient psychosis and again, the difficulties it poses in connecting with others. Over a running time of just 80 minutes, the play doesn’t always manage to engage and interrogate fully the enormity of these issues, relying on a plot contrivance or two too many to convince that they’re being explored efficaciously. Continue reading “Review: Correspondence, Old Red Lion”

Review: Play of Thrones, Union

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile”

Director and adaptor Phil Willmott has made something of a point of mixing things up when it comes to Shakespeare at the Union. He’s revived the rarely seen King John, unearthed the controversial Double Falsehood, cast a female Lear and there’s no exception with Play of Thrones. Taking George R R Martin’s inspiration of The Wars of the Roses as a starting point, Willmott has fashioned a free adaptation of the three Henry VI plays, using Part Three as the spine for a story of epic sweep of warring kings, bloody betrayals and fierce ambition that wouldn’t be out of place in Westeros.

So we see the Houses of Lancaster and York tussle again for England’s crown as the kingdom is fatally destabilised by the death of Henry V and the accession of his infant son, Henry VI. The rival dynasties scheme away making politically advantageous marriages, starting surreptitious strategic affairs, setting up any number of brutal murders, even invoking otherworldly spirits to ensure that they win the game. So far so Song of Ice and Fire and there is fun to be had in spotting familiar character traits – Ygritte’s warrior spirit, Cersei’s cold manipulations, Joffrey’s immature obnoxiousness, Tyrion’s tactical nous.

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Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre

“Art is opinion, and opinion is the source of all authority”

Not too much to say about Scenes from an Execution as we left at the interval and so any opinion has to take that into account, along with the fact this was actually the first full preview (the previous night’s performance being re-cast as a full dress). Howard Barker’s play, originally written for radio, is centred on Galactia, a sixteenth century Venetian artist who is commissioned to create a giant celebration of the triumphant Battle of Lepanto, but whose strong will and artistic impulses set her firmly at odds with the authorities.

Fiona Shaw returns to the National Theatre to take on this part, directed by Tom Cairns, so it is fair to say that expectations were a little high, but I just wasn’t prepared for the utter lack of engagement that came from the first half. It opens entertainingly enough: a naked man spread-eagled on a rock, an artist sketching him with a smock barely covering her up, a narrator figure flying around (literally) in a big white box (kudos to Hildegard Bechtler’s design). But after the initial set-up, I found little of interest in the portrayal of this fictional painter’s trials and tribulations. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre”

Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre

“I don’t like it when he calls it a movie”

Perhaps I am more ignorant of Jewish terminology than I ought to be, but I do find it a little surprising that the blurb for Nicholas Wright’s new play for the National Theatre, Travelling Light, simply states that it takes place in “a shtetl in Eastern Europe”. I’d no idea what a shtetl was, didn’t notice any explicatory reference in the text and over the last couple of days have asked a few people, none of whom knew either. The internet informs me it is a small town with a largely Jewish population, but it does seem an odd assumption of knowledge to make (or perhaps it is just indicative of how few Jewish friends I actually have…) In any case, that this is the detail that sticks most in my mind after seeing the show is indicative of how little I cared for it.

Set in the early 1900s, the play – still in previews – centres on Motl Mendl, a young Jewish photographer whose dreams and ambitions as he discovers the burgeoning art form of motion pictures set him on a path that will see him end up in Hollywood. But before he makes it big, he needs to extricate himself from domestic village life and that is easier said than done as they are a group of real ‘characters’ one and all. Chief among these is Jacob Bindel, an illiterate timber merchant who is so enthused about the potential of film-making that he stumps up the money needed to keep Motl from emigrating (for the time being at least) and to make a movie in their very own village. Or shtetl. Continue reading “Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre”

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”