His Dark Materials

For my birthday way back in 2006, my buddy Tuan bought us tickets to see a stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Although purchased in October 2006 the play wasn’t actually on until April 2008 – last Saturday in fact.

The play is in two parts, first was at 14:00 and the second at 19:00 with a couple of hours break in between (or pub and pints time as I named it). Total running time is somewhere near to five hours, which is fairly extreme but understandable given the length of the three books.

We set off down the motorway towards the West End of London bright and early on Saturday. When we hit Reading after about 100 miles of driving, I get Tuan to check what Theatre in the West End we are heading for. He replies;

“Theatre Royal, Bath.”

Oops.

At the next junction we turn around and head the 80 odd miles back to Bath, tails between our legs but thankful we didn’t make it all the way to London.

The performance itself was I believe an amateur group, and was made up entirely of children and young adults, with the oldest cast member something like 21 years old.

Overall the performance was engaging, and highly professional. One issue for me was that some of the younger actors appeared to think that the quality of their acting acting was directly linked to how loud they said their lines. As such some of the players delivered every line at what seemed to be full volume, and maximum attack. This coupled with some slight over amplification of the voices resulted in me occasionally flinching in expectation of hearing damage.

If you haven’t read the books the following will mean nothing to you.

It’s difficult to really buy into a young man of approximately twenty years playing the part of Lord Azrael, but once you look past that (and the other ludicrously young cast members) it’s not so bad.

I wondered how they would represent the characters of the daemons – the answer is with someone wearing silk pyjamas and a mask. I struggled with this throughout if I’m quite honest, as I did with the sets which were effectively non-existant. But I’m being unfair – it’s a huge undertaking, and the overall result is commendable. With the sheer quantity of storytelling that takes place, set design was always going to be difficult, as was getting across the daemons in all their complexity.