His Dark Materials (part one) at the Progress Theatre

Staging this play presents an amazing challenge for the Progress Theatre. They have to create over 130 characters with 28 actors, create two major battles and many smaller skirmishes, represent 43 locations on a small stage, costume the 130 characters and create puppetry for the daemons (a physical embodiment of a human soul).

Philip Pullman wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy two decades ago but it has real meaning in a Trump/Brexit world. The theme in part one (part two is a separate play) is banishing corruption and overthrowing a dangerous ideology; the church does not come out of this well.

This was very brave attempt; the puppetry for the daemons and armoured bears worked wonderfully and today’s Oxford really came alive in the scenes between Lyra and Will. The soundtrack was effective in setting the changing moods and locations. But the amazing number of scene changes (76) and the length of the play –  three hours (plus 15 minute intermission) –  made for an exhausting experience and the sheer number of characters made concentration a challenge.

The main characters of part one were:

Lyra Belacqua (played by Izzy Hayden), who was the lead role and on stage for most of the performance,

Will Parry (played by Dean Stephenson), who opens the play with Lyra,

Mrs Coulter (played by Madeleine Taylor) who was well coutured from head to toe,

Lord Asriel (played by newcomer Charlie West) who was a truly dashing explorer,

Lee Scoresby (played by Linda Bostick) who had just the right level of devil-may-care bravado.

The stage adaptation was written by Nicholas Wright and this production was directed by Ali Carroll.

The design of the set was functional and was put to particularly good use in the representation of journeys and escapes. Lighting and the sound track was effective in signalling a change in mood and location.

Go see it with an energy drink! It will engage you, make you think about allegories and hidden meanings and give you plenty to talk about when step out into a cold dark night.

His Dark Materials (part one) opens on Thursday 23 March. His Dark Materials (part two), for which we have also published a review, opens on Saturday 25 March. Both parts run until Saturday 1 April. Tickets can be bought from Ticketsource.


  1. The Progress Theatre
  2. His Dark Materials at the Progress Theatre
  3. Philip Pullman
  4. Nicholas Wright – His Dark Materials

2 thoughts on “His Dark Materials (part one) at the Progress Theatre

  1. Pingback: His Dark Materials (part two) at the Progress Theatre | The Whitley Pump

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