Today is my blog spot on the Theatrical blog tour. The story follows Hope, who dreams of working behind stage at a theatre. My favourite thing about the story was the atmosphere. It captured the unique experience of watching a stage production.
To celebrate the book, bloggers have been asked to recall their memories of going to the theatre. Let me take you back to 2005 and the stage adaptation of His Dark Materials.
His Dark Materials premiered at the National Theatre in 2003 and was revived between November 2004 and April 2005. It condensed Pullman’s trilogy into two three-hour plays. I saw the production in March 2005.
Theatre Critic Michael Billington described the experience as a clipped hedge compared to Pullman’s forest but that’s not how the play appeared to my young eyes. It was like being swept inside Pullman’s magic. It was the closest I will ever come to cutting a window into the fabric of the universe and stepping into another world.
The story began at the end. Will and Lyra sat on a park bench. Although they spoke to each-other, they were having separate conversations. They could neither see nor hear each other. It was a fantastic hook. If you hadn’t known Pullman’s work you would have been intrigued about Will and Lyra’s circumstances.
The adaptation brought out Will and Lyra’s character arcs. It is the story of their quest to embrace knowledge and reason against the rule of the Church. Side-stories and characters who might take the reader’s attention from this central arc were cut from the theatre production. Although this meant whole sections of the trilogy were lost – notably the sections which follow Mary Malone – it made a tighter story within the six-hour time-frame.
The actors I remember particularly are Adjoa Andoh as Serafina Pekkala, David Harewood as Lord Asriel and Lesley Manville as Mrs Coulter. The complex relationship between Coulter and Asriel was dramatised to perfection. Their final sequence in which the pair entered an eternal fall was met with standing ovation.
The puppet Joey from the National Theatre’s production of WarHorse has gone down in British cultural history. His Dark Materials deserves a similar legacy. The puppets were designed by Michael Curry, the same person who designed puppets for the stage version of The Lion King. The puppets used for the daemons and armoured bears did not recreate a whole animal but suggested their movements and behaviours. It would have been worth booking tickets twice-over -once to follow the story and once to watch the puppetry with wonder.
Michael Billington’s criticism, which I referenced at the start of this post, compared the production directly to the books. A play is never going to be the same as a novel. It is a different form of storytelling which embraces visual and audio magic to draw the audience into the story. Accept that a play will never replicate a novel and it is fair to say that the stage production of His Dark Materials was magical. It was an experience which will stay with me for life.
Have you seen a theatre production which stayed with you for life? Let me know in the comments below.