Reviewed: Play in a Box – National Theatre and Walker Books

Play in a Box

Do you have any little drama Kings or Queens in your life? If so, you might be interested to read about the National Theatre’s Play in a Box.

Play in a Box is a sturdy kit, with vibrant colours. The pack’s design is simple: inside, there’s a Stagecraft handbook, 30 Character cards, eight Setting cards and a Plot twist book.

I had a hunch that my children would enjoy this kit. My daughter loves imaginative play, and is always brewing up fantastic dramas with her friends when they come round for playdates. My son’s keen on Shakespeare, after our trip to the Bard’s birthplace and his school’s participation in the Shakespeare Schools Festival. So something that helps them explore stagecraft and drama, is an ideal gift.

Character cards

Play in a Box

The Character cards were fun, with a wide variety of characters. Players could choose to be aliens or witches, doctors or secret agents, explorers or mad scientists – there was even a monkey in the line-up. The back of the cards revealed a bit more about the characters. Each one was classified as a Friend, Opponent, Stranger or Hero. As well as giving a brief outline about where the character came from, their likes, dislikes and habits, the back of the card also gave tips on how to play the part. Rascal Red the Fox walked lightly as he/she crept up on others. Sir Braggadocio, the Wicked Knight, spoke in a loud confident voice. Tips on costume weren’t left out: Sara Trueheart, the Doctor, had pockets filled with plasters and bandages.

Play in a Box

Setting cards

Play in a Box

The kit guided budding thespians to choose a world for their performance. Would the action take place in a tropical jungle, where only the brave can survive? Or would the players explore a forest of enchantment, straying off the path to find adventures?

Like the Character cards, the front of the Setting cards gave a vibrant visual image, with more detail and pointers on the back.

Play in a Box

Plot twist book

A play is nothing without a decent storyline. The Plot twist book contained five different ideas for the beginning, middle and end of the story. Questions prompted the players into exploring the plot twist, and putting their own slant on it.

Play in a Box

Stagecraft handbook

This was a beautiful publication in its own right. As well as giving detailed advice on all aspects of performance, it contained snippets of interesting facts. I didn’t know, for instance, that a ‘stage’ where an audience moved around to watch the action was called a promenade. The handbook taught young dramatists all sorts of ways to make their play special: how to make human figures out of paper; vary a stage’s lighting using, for instance, torches, desk lamps or fairy lights; and to think about ways to create live music on stage, and sound effects off to the side.

Play in a Box


Although we haven’t yet produced and executed a family performance, my children’s enthusiasm for this kit leaves me in no doubt that it will be brought out and played with for many years to come. Children at the younger end of the spectrum will need help with the kit, but it can be used at different levels. There’s enough in it to satisfy teenage thespians, I’d say – and plenty to pique the interest of adult dramatists.

Play in a Box is published by the National Theatre and Walker Books. It retails at £12.99, and is suitable for anyone aged six or over.

We were sent Play in a Box for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.

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