“Come along, chop-chop!” say our minders, rather briskly. It’s a foggy winter evening in Hereford, we’re on the trail of a dastardly couple who have just made off in a vintage car, and there’s no time for laggards. Thus begins The Box of Delights, a mix of promenade performance and dining experience, based on John Masefield’s 1935 children’s story, and marking the 20th anniversary of Hereford-based company 2Faced Dance.
We pass a whining man dressed as a rat, offering old boots to eat; a stoutly old-fashioned copper and a cathedral choir; an antlered fortune-teller in a wooden booth. Meanwhile, normal life continues: taxis purr past, residents sometimes glance at us through windows, the few passersby carry on as normal. The concurrence of make-believe and matter-of-factness is utterly beguiling, nowhere more than when our young hero Kay (fresh-faced Alex Tucker) imagines a phoenix rising from a brazier and we turn to see a flame-feathered trapeze artist swinging high above us, while in the distance masked wheelchair users spin by – “the wolves are running!” comes a cry – their eyes like green torchlights through the dark. In the middle of Hereford.
Imaginations transported, we are led to the Green Dragon hotel for an exquisite sit-down meal, and the performers continue their story on a platform at eye-level with the diners, gleefully mixing parkour, circus, street dance, slapstick and cabaret.
No need to have read the book: choreographer Tamsin Fitzgerald and writer Tim Evans have done a canny job of condensing Masefield’s profuse story to a set of sprightly essentials. Cannier still: doesn’t the arc of their evening – wide-eyed wonder and witching tales giving way to communal feasting, accompanied by feats, tricks and entertainment – nicely mirror the idea of Christmas itself?