Title: Play in a Box
Author: National Theatre
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Fun Activity kit
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Description: Discover how to create, direct and act in your very own play in this brilliant kit from the National Theatre. Inside find everything you need to put on a show, including ideas and inspiration for the characters, settings and plot, as well as expert top tips for staging, costume, make-up, props, sound and lighting. Contains 30 Character Cards, 8 Setting Cards, Plot Twist Book, 32-page Stagecraft Handbook and a programme and tickets to colour in. This kit will be the perfect gift and give hours of fun to all young actors, directors and theatre-lovers.

*Free copy provied by publisher for review…

Review:  This is such a fun kit and great for any kids who love the idea of acting or performing. The National Theatre Play in a Box comes with several things inside: A booklet called ‘Stagecraft Handbook’, 30 character cards (2 of them blank), 8 settings cards, a Plot Twist Book, a program to fill in and colour and tickets to also fill in and colour. All the items in the box can be used by kids to put on their own play but I’ll break them down to make it easier to know what you’re actually getting. At the end I’ll give my conclusion if you’d prefer to skip to that.

Play in a Box image one
©The Strawberry Post

Stagecraft Handbook:
This is the main book and is around A5ish in size and shape. It’s a short booklet rather than a book and has glossy covers with thick glossy and very colourful pages inside. Although listed on Amazon as a hardback, this refers to the box the kit comes in rather than the book.
On the first pages of the book there are brief explanations of all the other things you get in this kit before moving on to the details of how to put on a play. It cover everything from first deciding on a story for your play, then characters before moving on to costumes, prop design and how to actually act on stage. What I love about this book is how easy, simple and fun everything is. Rather than lots of text which can seem boring, there are lots of easy to understand pictures along with snippets of text. The book covers so many aspects of putting on a play and although I knew most of the tips and tricks that are explained here, having done a lot of theatre work in the past, I still learned some fun things you can do to create a certain feel on stage or how to use large props like cars when you can’t actually have a car on stage! There are also some key words explained, which are used in real theatres, such foley, house and gel, making the book more valuable as even I didn’t know what a ‘gel’ was in theatre-speak.
The whole books is made even more fun by the fact that Billy the Backstage Cat, a fun cat character, is pictured throughout the book giving little extra information – I just love kids books that add that little fun extra!

Play in a Box image two
©The Strawberry Post

-Settings Cards:
There are eight cards each with a different settings. When trying to come up with a new story for a play these cards are a great way of imagining a new setting. On one side is a picture of the setting (which can be used as inspiration for a kid’s own stage) while the other side of that setting has a brief explanation of the setting, along with sounds you might hear, questions on what might happen in such a place and some handy tips on how to create that setting. Settings include a Forest of Enchantment, Planet X, and a Secret Laboratory.

Character Cards:
There are 28 cards that have characters on them. A character card contains a picture of a character such as an astronaut called Commander Mo Meteor on one side with some text about them on the back. The text suggests what type of character they are as well as suggestions on what they are like, what they are thinking, and some tips on how to make that character seem real, such as bouncing while walking to make it look like an astronaut in light gravity.
The character cards are separated on the back (the side with the text) by colours. Yellow cards are hero characters, red are friends, blue are opponents and green are strangers.
The idea of the cards is to mix and match them to give you ideas of the different characters you might have in a play. I think they’re very clever, especially with the tips on how to make them believable. There are also two blank cards so you can create your own characters, and colour them in.
The twenty eight characters include both people and animals such as a doctor, detective, ghost and rabbit.

Play in a Box image three
©The Strawberry Post

-Plot Twist Book:
If kids are struggling to come up with ideas for all three acts of a play, the start, middle and finish, then the plot twist book is a great addition to this kit. It’s a tiny booklet barely bigger than a playing card but so easy to read. Each page is very simply designed with an idea of a beginning, middle or ending along with questions such as why did it happen, who will help you and can they be trusted. The twists include ideas like You Have to Find Something, You Get Lost and You Discover a Big, Bad Secret Plan.

The program is a small folded sheet of paper which kids can design and colour in on. It has some fun spaces to add information about the play, the cast and some fun reviews on the back of the play. Kids can use this programme as it is or it could be photocopied in order to create more in the future. It’s certainly something I didn’t think of adding when I performed plays at home for family when I was little.

Just like the program these are tickets to colour in and add details of the play. You get a total of nine tickets, each numbered for nine different seats but these can again be copied or recreated if kids want to put on more plays.

Play in a Box image four
©The Strawberry Post

This is such a fun kit and so much to do. I was extra interested in getting this kit and taking a look at it as I used to stage plays and shows at home when I was a child all the time, and I later became interested and involved in acting and stage work at school. Everything about this book is fun from the Stagecraft handbook to the programme you can create and colour in. There’s so many ideas for different plots and characters and settings that it really gets kids using their imagination. I think any kids interested in this type of kit would just love it. I would have been using this like crazy if it existed when I was younger, and with so many different cards and ideas there’s plenty of chances for kids to use this kit again and again!

-Review first appeared online October 2017 – now republished here.

What do you think of this activity pack?  Have you ever or do you children enjoy acting and dressing up?  Do you know anyone who would enjoy this activity kit?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂