His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman, adapted by Nicholas Wright

National Theatre (Olivier)

(2004)

Review by Philip Fisher

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Part I

.The National's latest sell-out blockbuster is an epic adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy. This is a genre that does not leave the reader indifferent. You love or hate these novels.

The fans lap up this play and love every moment of it. The story of twelve-year-old Lyra the liar's exploits travelling through parallel worlds to find her parents and fight streams of semi-monsters can be exciting. It contains humour and, with the exception of its anarchic view of The Church, is a moral tale where good will always succeed.

Maybe there are no new stories left but His Dark Materials is old fashioned in conception, as it addresses issues of coming of age and loss of innocence. Think of a mixture of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and unexpectedly, Just William, and you will not be too far off.

The real novelty is that most of the actors have visible, symbolically-selected daemons that support them. In Lyra's case, a cat operated by puppeteer, Samuel Barnett. For other creepier types, snakes are to the fore.

The strength of this evening is in its uncompromisingly high production values under the theatre's artistic director Nicholas Hytner. Nothing has been spared in bringing his vision to the stage.

The set, designed by Giles Cadle, is very expensive and the revolve not only goes around but up and down revealing numerous variations; and that is before the computer generated graphics are tossed in.

The acting is also impressive with Anna Maxwell Martin, now a true star, really in her element as a completely believable twelve-year-old (at least to the reviewer's much older eyes). She is well supported by a horde of others with Timothy Dalton, Niamh Cusack, Tim McMullan and Danny Sapani to the fore.