The stage version was always going to be an ambitious project
The UK press review the National Theatre's adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
I must admit that, lover of all things bold and imaginative though I hope I am, I was weary by the end. I had had my fill of rushing witches, men waving bear masks, screeching harpies, the camp-sounding mannequins who trail white taffeta and claim to be angels, the lizard-headed flying night-gowns know as cliff-ghasts, the cute dolls in period costumes that ride on large green flies, and even the mammals, birds or reptiles which are carried by actors or manipulated by puppeteers in order to represent characters' spirits or "daemons". And I had had more than my fill of Pullman's mind.
It wasn't the parts where the Olivier Theatre was showing off its astonishing resources (with the mighty drum-revolve working overtime to dredge up diverse worlds) that made the keenest impact on me. The bits that I shall treasure are the moments of heart-stopping simplicity where Wright, Hytner and the two superb central performers (Anna Maxwell Martin and Dominic Cooper) prove they have grasped the emotional core of this inspiring saga, a colossally arduous rite of passage into puberty in which a pair of 12-year-olds from parallel universes redemptively re-enact the Fall, their positive embrace of sexual love and adult consciousness liberating Creation from the life-denying repression of the wicked Christian church.
The Daily Mail
For all its extravagance and scope, with a huge drum-like set heaving into view while the periphery revolves in the changing landscape of mountains, snow bridges and encampments, this is a distinctly stop-go affair. Fluency and magic are in short supply both in a rather pedestrian script by Nicholas Wright and the faltering dramatic momentum of Nicholas Hytner's production. Partly this is due to the books themselves. Whatever their merits (and I'm not convinced), they are not Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo.
Nothing is more tempting than the apparently impossible. But, although director Nicholas Hytner and his creative team display heroic courage in turning Philip Pullman's epic trilogy into two three-hour plays, they are ultimately overcome by the vastness of the enterprise. There is much to admire in the staging; yet the result, inevitably, is like a clipped hedge compared to Pullman's forest.
The Daily Telegraph
The stage version of His Dark Materials strikes me as an honourable failure rather than an exhilarating success. There are some striking moments and several superb performances, but too often the production seems earthbound when it ought to soar, depressingly literal when it ought to fire the imagination. Whisper it ever so quietly, but there were long stretches when I was bored.
Daemons, cliff-ghasts, lovelorn witches, gyptians, harpies, armoured bears, soul-sucking spectres and tiny creatures riding dragonflies - the magical creations of writer Philip Pullman soared from page to stage yesterday in what could be the most spectacular theatre blockbuster ever.
One of Pullman's best-loved but trickiest inventions, the daemons - devoted animals that are a physical manifestation of a person's soul - become paper puppets illuminated by an internal light and controlled by masked operators dressed in black so the audience almost forgets their presence. His armoured bear - warrior polar bears - are suggested by costumes and masks held forward by the actors in a technique reminiscent of the stage version of The Lion King.