Tuesday, 2 June 2009

His Dark Materials - West Yorkshire Playhouse

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Adaptor: Nichola Wright
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh & Sarah Esdaile
Reviewer: Ali Noble

‘His Dark Materials’ is a thrilling marathon of a performance, staged in two parts, and based on the trilogy of novels by Philip Pullman of the same name. Prior to attending the performance, I knew little of Pullman’s stories; I was only aware of the controversy they’d attracted from various quarters. The roots of this controversy were clear in the themes that quickly emerged in the play: good versus evil, innocence and experience (borrowed from William Blake’s poetry), but subverted from the attributes usually ascribed to them - for Pullman, it is experience, knowledge and self-determinism which bring fulfilment to the human soul, and not that which is seemingly good, innocent and pure (represented here by the aggressive, scheming and hypocritical monks of the Genevan church).

It is clear then that - whilst the play follows the fate of 12-year olds Lyra and Will, this is not a children’s story. It is complex, dark and layered. But it is also wonderfully creative and a visual feast - mostly thanks to the amazing work of Blind Summit’s puppetry. Lyra and the others from her world each have daemons - animal companions that project something of the character’s soul. These animals - Lyra’s Pantalaimon, a pine marten, Lord Asriel’s Stelmaria, a snow leopard, and Mrs. Coulter’s Golden Monkey, an orangutan; as well as the fantastic armoured polar bears - were all modeled and performed with amazing skill, so much so that the audience were able to suspend their disbelief as the daemons came to life. The set was minimal which meant that the whole area of the stage was employed, and complementing the colour and actions of the large cast. Amy McAllister was brilliant as Lyra - wholly believable and natural as a 12 year old girl. There really were no weak links in this performance, and the whole cast should be commended for their energy and flexibility, as they metamorphosed from one character to another.

The only problem I found with the performance I saw were how the two parts were split - the first part started at 1pm and finished at 4.30, and the second part started at 7pm, finishing at 10pm. it was quite a slog to sit through so much theatre in one day, and I would imagine particularly so for children and their accompanying parents. Despite this, the play did keenly hold the attention of the audience. All in all, an excellent production.

Photos: Catherine Ashmore
His Dark Materials continues at the WYP until Sat 20th June
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