For generations stories have been passed down to our youngsters, coming of age tales that depict the struggles of growing up and the dangers of the transition into adulthood. Phillip Pullman’s modern classic sends us on a Lord of The Rings come Narnia style transitional journey full of fantastical characters and other worlds. So how exactly do you turn a popular trilogy with such complex details and characters into a stage show? Nicholas Wright shows us just how it should be done with help from the Birmingham Rep and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
We follow Lyra Belacqua (Amy McAllister) as she leaves Oxford and begins her adventure to free the children stolen by the Goblers. With evil, incompetent parents and a prophecy surrounding her, life becomes difficult but with the help of her daemon Pantalaimon (Gerard Carey), her new best friend Will (Nick Barber), an armoured bear (Geoffrey Lumb) and the queen of the witches (Emma Manton) can she save the children and ultimately the world?
The puppets themselves were so well designed they almost seemed human
With an absolutely stellar ensemble cast, cleverly directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and Sarah Esdaile, there is no way this show can possibly fail. Ruari Murchison’s set is simplistic and understated for such a complex play but with use of upturned tables for boats and ladders to fly in the witches it becomes a true theatrical experience. Wright’s adaptation captures the essence of the novels and despite the obvious challenges surrounding the staging the script brings warmth and humour. Although the ‘human’ actors were all extremely capable it is the daemon puppet masters who truly shine. Carey’s constant energy certainly brought Pantalaimon to life and the puppets themselves were so well designed they almost seemed human. Added comic moments came in the form of the Gallivespians (little people) in the second half which had many of the younger audience members doubled over in laughter. McAllister’s Lyra took us on the journey needed from annoying brat to young adult and this transition is focussed heavily upon throughout the play. The essential story is that of a girl losing her innocence but without the real warnings that other childhood stories send. Instead it focuses on science and religion and encouraging our youngsters to think for themselves and believe what they will. When innocence ends learning begins but with a protagonist aged only 12 years old is it encouraging our children to grow up too fast? Either way, the execution is impeccable and despite some rather over the top moments the main disappointment was seeing so few people there in the Festival to enjoy it.
Until Sun 24 May
See Festival website for more details