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His Dark Materials

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The newspapers and magazines have been publishing their reviews of the stage adaptation of His Dark Materials at the The National Theatre. The reviews are mostly positive so far. We tried to buy tickets for it last month when they first went on sale, but they were sold out immediately. If they extend the run we'll try for tickets again (we're not about to stand in lengthy queues in the hope of getting some tickets, or stand for both 3 hour plays).

I had reservations about seeing the stage adaptation, but I think despite the fact that they've altered the storyline it would still be worth it, not to mention satisfying my curiosity on how well such epic books translate to the stage. As with any adaptation I consider it (and the upcoming film versions) to be a separate entity; never as good as the books, but with value and entertaining in their own right. I actually have more interest in seeing the stage adaptations than the films, partially because New Line (who have bought the rights) are already talking about downplaying or removing religion from the story completely and turning it into simply a struggle against authoritative power.

It's interesting to see their casting choices. Timothy Dalton seems to portray Lord Asriel's domineering arrogance well, although he and Dominic Cooper as Will are the only ones who come close to how I visualised the characters. I think the Panserbjørne, the armoured bears, are magnificent in their Japanese style armour. The way they created the dæmons is also impressive; I expected that they'd simply be passive props, but it seems they've been imbued with character by the puppeteers (surprisingly they even handle the shape-shifting of dæmons). I think the attempt to stage this is what interests me most, how and where it succeeds and fails.

Timothy Dalton (as Lord Asriel) and Patricia Hodge (as Mrs. Coulter)

"Timothy Dalton's Lord Asriel, an aristocratic Satan challenging a crumbling divine authority, mixes Miltonic pride with boyish adventurism. Patricia Hodge as the sinister, fur-coated Mrs Coulter catches exactly the ambivalence of a woman who finds unexpected maternal instincts overcoming her power lust." - G

"Timothy Dalton's gruff, no-nonsense Lord Asriel is a rugged breath of fresh air as he sweeps arrogantly into the midst of the stuffy scholars. He's less convincing tackling some overblown "Once more unto the breach"-style speeches, but the fevered urgency with which he pursues his quest to build "the republic of heaven" is infectious." - I

"Dalton is well cast, giving us a touch of Henry V as he rallies his army of men, witches, angels and bears against the church." - T

"Patricia Hodge, all creamy-voiced poise, her mother, Mrs Coulter is, as she should be, at once utterly alluring and completely chilling."
- O

Anna Maxwell Martin (as Lyra Belacqua) and Armoured Bears

Armoured Bears and Dominic Cooper (as Will)

"Iorek Byrnison, the ostracised armoured bear, is at first disappointingly human-sized, but Danny Sapani invests his role with so much grisly gravitas, you soon forget he's of normal stature." - I

Lady Salmakia, The Chevalier Tialys (Gallvespians) Anna Maxwell Martin (as Lyra), Danny Sapani (as Iorek Byrnison), Dominic Cooper (as Will) and Lyra’s dæmon Pantalaimon

"Martin as Lyra carries much of the show on her slim shoulders, and touchingly suggests, aided by Dominic Cooper's Will, the character's emergence into post-pubescent knowledge." - G

The Golden Monkey (Mrs Coulter’s dæmon), Patricia Hodge (as Mrs Coulter), Timothy Dalton (as Lord Asriel), Stelamaria (Lord Asriel’s dæmon) at The Bridge to the Stars

Danny Sapani (as Iorek Byrnison), Dominic Cooper (as Will)

Dominic Cooper (as Will), with Lyra’s dæmon Pantalaimon

Niamh Cusack (as Serafina Pekkala) with her dæmon Kaisa

"Niamh Cusack — in Wright ’s adaptation, a stand-in bearer of the mystic-dust-detecting amber spyglass — makes a fine Irish valkyrie." - T

Stelamaria (Lord Asriel’s dæmon), Timothy Dalton (as Lord Asriel), Patricia Hodge (as Mrs Coulter), and The Golden Monkey (Mrs Coulter’s dæmon)

Niamh Cusack (as Serafina Pekkala), Cecilia Noble (as Ruta Skadi)

Anna Maxwell Martin (as Lyra Belacqua)

"Ably supported by Cooper, Maxwell Martin superbly sustains almost the entire weight of this drama, yet it is easy to believe she is a bolshie kid on the verge of puberty. The same approach produces some remarkable, childlike performances from the 30-strong cast, notably Russell Tovey as Lyra’s accidental victim, her friend Roger." - T

Anna Maxwell Martin (as Lyra) with her dæmon Pantalaimon

"Pullman’s point is that children have an innocent imagination that adult experience destroys. Children do not need to know the theoretical physics that underlies his invention of an endless series of possible worlds coexisting in time and space. They can see it is possible to pass from one to another. Children easily accept that in Lyra’s world, a parodic version of old academic Oxford, people are accompanied by their daemons, their souls externalised in animal form, beautifully realised here by Michael Curry’s puppets, animated by black-clad actors.

These daemons are more than an expression of Pullman’s distinctive psychology of body, soul and spirit; for, while a child’s daemon, like its imagination, inhabits many forms, an adult’s closes into one. The phallic serpent stroked by John Carlisle, as Lord Boreal, is a nasty example. The metaphor energises the whole narrative, for the inquisitorial church of Lyra’s world wishes to separate children from their daemons, claiming to protect their innocence, but causing imaginative death."
- T

"The evening's most surprising successes are the daemons, those visible counterparts of the human soul which, taking the form of animals, accompany the characters in Lyra's world. These are the most original stroke in Pullman's book (an excellent programme suggests a basis for the invention in paintings from the Middle Ages onwards), and its emotional focus: has anyone ever cared as much about the parting of Will and Lyra as about the severing of Lyra from her daemon, Pantalaimon?

At first, the idea that daemons should be puppets held by masked figures in black who ventriloquise their voices as they follow their characters seems obtrusive, over-arty. But the puppeteers are so skilful at projecting their creatures that they make themselves disappear."

Daemons are forever - The Observer

"Moreover, his writing is motivated by "the instinct to feel awe and wonder at the universe, to have a sense of moral relations with other conscious and unconscious beings." That impulse, and the imperative to act that comes with it, are what make His Dark Materials such a compelling, popular morality tale for our times. "We can't disclaim responsibility," he says. "If we want things to be right, to be good, we have to make them so." In other words, adapt."

A Dark Star Under The Lights - Time Europe

"What I question is the adaptability of Pullman's trilogy, be it into theatre, radio or film. It seems to me the ultimate example of a literary project that achieves its fullest life at the point where the author's vision meets the reader's imagination."

His Dark Materials - The Guardian

Rehearsal Images

An audience with atheism's answer to C. S. Lewis - The Times

'People often call me odd. Maybe they mean ugly' - (Interview with Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Lyra) - The Telegraph

How to Frighten the Children - scanned article from The Economist

"Which brings us to the theology. Though Jon Morrell’s excellent costumes effectively suggest a sinister Calvinist papacy crossed with the CIA, the production fudges the implication that Asriel’s challenge is also to God, aka “the Authority”. This is untrue to Pullman’s inspiration, Milton’s Paradise Lost, for Asriel is repeating the challenge of Milton’s fallen angel, Satan. The production shies away from these truly dark materials."

When worlds collide - The Times

The unstageable - on stage at last - The Independent

The National's Dark Machinery - The NYtimes

Not Just for Children - Newsweek

Staging the Next Fantasy Blockbuster - NYtimes

Dark Materials - (Timothy Dalton) The Sunday Times

His Dark Materials - BBC

His Dark Materials Part One and Two - London Theatre Guide

Pullman will last for generations, just as Defoe has - The Telegraph
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On January 28th, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC), ex_snej373 commented:
When I read the article in the Economist I meant to ask you about the play, but I kept forgetting. Thanks for all the pictures and information! I really hope you get to see it and can tell us what it was like.
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On January 29th, 2004 07:27 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
We tried to get tickets only a day after they went on sale and everything was gone in a flash, except the standing tickets, which for 6 hours in total I think would have been a bit difficult.

I hope hope hope they extend the play.. but really, I think just want to see an armoured bear. ;)
On January 30th, 2004 08:06 am (UTC), ex_snej373 replied:
Support the right to armor bears!

PS: I like your ermine. Or ferret, or whatever!
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On January 28th, 2004 02:30 pm (UTC), steveeeee commented:
the bit where will touches pantalaimon always puts a lump in my throat.
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On January 29th, 2004 07:23 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Me too, and when Lyra and Pantalaimon are separated. I think Pullman writes emotion incredibly well.
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On January 28th, 2004 02:34 pm (UTC), lil_octopie commented:
wow. very cool. i love the japanese armour bear also. somehow I think I would appreciate this story told with puppet creatures more so than CG animals that they will no doubt infuse the movie with. I think the only way a movie interpretation of this would work is if the Jim Henson company made animatronics -- CG animals are just...arghhh. I beg to god they don't get someone annoying to play a "comedic jarjarbinks" familiar. : )
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On January 29th, 2004 07:38 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
I know what you mean about puppets vs. CG, to this day I still prefer the puppets/models/sets in many older films, they seem more tangible. Usually when I see CG animals all I can think about is how plastic it's fur/skin looks. George Lucas is a good example of taking CG too far, turning His Dark Materials cutesy would be a worst case scenario.. especially considering how dark the books are. I'd love to see the Jim Henson company get involved though, that would give me hope!
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On January 28th, 2004 03:14 pm (UTC), absolution commented:
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On January 29th, 2004 07:21 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
have you read the trilogy? if not I definitely recommend.
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On February 1st, 2004 07:04 am (UTC), steveeeee commented:
hayley and i were just thinking about going, but the entire run has sold out! (apart from tickets on the door, but the queues would be pretty big)
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On February 19th, 2004 05:54 am (UTC), dreamtech commented:
So James Bond has become Lord Asriel. Interesting. Actually, he is not a bad actor, it's just that the scripts for the two Bond movies he worked on were not that great.

Thanks for posting this info and the photos. I read this trilogy not too long ago and enjoyed it very much. Definitely a recommended read... for all ages.

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On March 5th, 2004 04:43 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I think Dalton certainly has the look and presence of Lord Asriel.. I'd like to see a recording of the play to see how well he pulls it off. I wonder if one was made.

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