Tag Archives: Justin Audibert

“The Box of Delights” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Taking up the challenge of Christmas entertainment for a second year running, award-winning writer Piers Torday’s adaptation of John Mansfield’s classic novel is a children’s show with lots of imagination and energy. As our hero Kay, with his chums Mariah and Peter, battle to save Christmas from the claws of an evil magician and a pack of wolves, this show should keep even the most restless of pre-teens engaged. It’s a great introduction to theatre which is, of course, a fantastic gift to give.

Director Justin Audibert is artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre, which focuses on work for younger audiences, and his expertise shows. There’s a mix of simple, effective tricks (especially around the cast taking multiple roles) alongside some impressive video projections from Nina Dunn. As is de rigueur, puppetry is added and there’s a set full of surprises from Tom Piper that culminates in a strong finale. Some of the adult characters we meet aren’t that interesting, and pepping them up through performance has mixed success. Those who play the younger roles have abetter time: Theo Ancient tackles a very dated kind of hero superbly, Safiyya Ingar is good as the tomboy Mariah (let’s skip over her penchant for weaponry), and Samuel Simmonds get some extra laughs out of his bookish character. The real delight, though, is the villains, with Nigel Betts in a silk dressing gown, and especially Sara Stewart, who clearly came top of the class in evil laughs at drama school – a deliciously enviable skill not to be sniffed at.

As for the adaptation, Torday focuses on the adventure story and the result is so fast paced it doesn’t always make sense, even if it’s exciting enough. A gamble seems to have been taken that people know the story, or at least recognise elements within it that have proved so influential on subsequent children’s fiction. Some of this can drag and start to look silly if you’ve any humbug about you. But there’s a lot of fun with the source material as a period piece, with the cast playing youngsters working especially well here. There’s some great slang (scrobble for kidnap) and Ancient has an expert line in wide-eyed naivety. The second act really picks up and becomes much funnier so that, overall, the show makes good its claim of being “a fine tale for Christmas”.

Until 6 January 2019

www.wiltons.org.uk

Photo by Nobby Clark

“Unscorched” at the Finborough Theatre

As the winner of the prestigious Papatango New Writing Prize, Luke Owen gets his first play, Unscorched, staged at the Finborough Theatre. Packing in the critics last night, the scene is set to judge the script, and it’s easy to see why it won as it’s a strong piece. But just as impressive are the performances from two players: Ronan Raftery, who takes the lead role, and his love interest, played by Eleanor Wyld.

Back to the playwright. Owen’s unsavoury subject is child abuse, with the action based around an office where pornography is analysed in order to assist the police. We know it’s an unpalatable job; the first scene, with a brief but emotive performance from Richard Atwill, brilliantly shows a worker having a breakdown because of the traumatic material he is exposed to.

Enter our new recruit Tom (Raftery). With the bravest of intentions, the long-serving Nidge, performed capably by John Hodgkinson, mentors him. Seemingly immune to the horrors he watches, Nidge makes us aware of the toll this necessary work takes. And Tom is carefully watched by his boss, who has a “buddy” approach to management that strikes a jarringly comic tone. George Turvey convinces in this role, pointing out the therapeutic potential of an Xbox and promoting paintballing – as if these really could be solutions.

It is the romantic writing, about Tom and his new love affair, which is best and highlights Owen’s intelligent voice. As with the main subject matter, the relationship is written in an admirably understated fashion. Careful to avoid prurient touches, it feels authentic and shows the effects that working in such a horrible field have on ordinary people and this likeable couple in particular.

Satisfying as it is, the relationship Tom starts out on could have been even more of a focus to the play. A series of (too) brief scenes start to become a touch frustrating. Perhaps the direction from Justin Audibert could have been slightly tighter. The astoundingly efficient set from Georgia Lowe works hard but time is taken up preparing for very short scenarios so it feels as if the play needs a bigger stage. Although given the quality of the writing and performances, it surely deserves one.

Until 23 November 2013

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Written 1 November 2013 for The London Magazine