By Brenda Sandilands.
We mentioned the considerable challenge posed by the Progress Theatre’s decision to stage this play in our review of His Dark Materials part one; the huge cast and the variety of technical skills required to create the versatile set, costumes, props and puppetry, to name a few. The Progress Theatre has met and conquered these challenges by creating a fast-moving and enchanting theatre experience that will stay with you long after we leave Lyra and Will in Oxford.
Part two reunites us with characters from part one and introduces us to a number of new characters, including:
a number of clerics in Geneva, (variously described as being hardball, softball, fervent or wily!),
a trio of miniature but mighty Gallivespians (including the delightful Lord Roke with his cut-glass accent, played by Alison Hill), who spy for Lord Asriel.
Many of the 28 actors play more than one role and therefore have to change both appearance and behaviour at breakneck speed. They do this remarkably well – watch the fabulous Jack Goodman appear as the shaman Jopari (Will’s long-lost father) and then reappear in another scene as a gruff and growling armoured bear.
There are brief moments of comedy that contrast with the often sinister atmosphere; in some scenes, this is provided by two charmingly camp angels, Balthamos (Jordan Emmett) and Baruch (Matthew Beswick). There are also touches of sorrow that evoke sympathy in the audience, such as when Serafina (Steph Dewar), Queen of the Lapland witches, explains why humans and witches cannot have relationships that last; her sadness is heart-breaking. The witches, resplendent in shimmering red capes, add moments of elegance and grace as they fly about on boughs of cloud pine.
Part two takes us into ghostly and haunting parallel worlds (outside the land of the dead, the land of the dead, and the unknown world) and, once again, music and lighting are used to transform the set. Lyra (the magnificent Izzy Hayden) and Will (skilfully portrayed by Dean Stephenson) hold our attention throughout the evening and their growing bond becomes increasingly moving.
Some may feel that it is impossible to capture Pullman’s trilogy in a theatre version; however, the author himself has praised Nicholas Wright’s adaptation, saying that “the astonishing thing for me is to see how skilfully they can represent a book that takes 35 hours to read aloud – I know because I have done it – in six hours of theatre”. Full marks to the director Ali Carroll and everyone involved in creating this memorable production.
If you’re familiar with the trilogy, you’ll be able to follow the plotlines easily and decide if what you see matches the version in your memory. And if you haven’t read the books, don’t hesitate – book tickets (soon!) for this almost sold-out production and let yourself fall under the spell of the magical story.
The beautifully illustrated souvenir programme is very good value as it contains a fascinating account of the process of creating the costumes, props, puppetry, set and music, as well as cast biographies and a very useful glossary of the weird and wonderful terms that appear in the trilogy.
- The Progress Theatre
- His Dark Materials at the Progress Theatre
- Philip Pullman
- Nicholas Wright – His Dark Materials