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  Review: His Dark Materials
Updated 15 January 2004, 15.55
Lyra and bears - photo by IVAN KYNCL
By Newsround Online's Tim Masters and Philip Westerman at the National Theatre

It's always a nervous time when your favourite book gets turned into a film or a play.

Will it be as good? How much will the story change? Will the characters appear as you imagined them?

Fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy need have no such worries. The stage version of his epic story has opened at London's National Theatre - and it's a stunning show.

It's no easy thing to crunch three big books - Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - into six hours of theatre. That's why these two plays rattle along like a runaway train.

There's certainly no risk of getting bored. At times you want the pace to slow down a bit as there's so much going on that it's hard to take it all in.


The 12-year-old heroine Lyra is played by Anna Maxwell Martin. She's perfect in the role, and brilliantly captures Lyra's strengths and weaknesses.

Will and Lyra - photo by IVAN KYNCL
Anna Maxwell Martin and Dominic Cooper play Will and Lyra
Alongside Lyra is her daemon Pantalaimon - a puppet controlled by an actor dressed in black. This clever device allows Pant to keep changing animal shape - and after a while you don't really notice the daemon actor at all.

Mrs Coulter's daemon, the golden monkey, works best of all - the puppet jumps scarily from floors to doorways just like a real monkey. It always has a sense of menace.

There's one very scary scene in the Arctic where all the daemons that have been cut from their humans are revealed screeching in a metal cage. Even when you've read the book, it comes as a bit of a shock.

What doesn't work so well are the amoured bears - their costumes look a bit too much like a man holding a mask at arm's length.

The Gallivespians aren't the same as in the books. They seem far too silly on stage, and you can't really forget they are puppets.

But the best effect is the stage, made of different sections which rise and fall, evolve and spin to make the effect of different worlds really come alive.

Good acting

But no matter how good the effects, it would all fall apart if the actors were no good.

Fortunately, they are excellent.

Mrs Coulter - photo by IVAN KYNCL
Patricia Hodge is the evil Mrs Coulter
Anna Maxwell Martin is brilliantly accompanied by Pantalaimon actor Samuel Barnett, who brings the puppet daemon to life and really makes him a believable character.

Dominic Cooper (Will) comes across as brave and frightened at the same time, which sums the character up well.

The biggest name in the cast, Bond actor Timothy Dalton, is impressive as Lord Asriel. You really could see him leading a rebellion against God!

The only part that doesn't fit is Patricia Hodge (Mrs Coulter), but simply because she seems too old to play the part.

We don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it's exciting where it should be, and just as moving as the book.

This is a great introduction to the books if you don't know them. If you're already a Pullman fan, you won't be disappointed!

The play of His Dark Materials is on at the National Theatre in London until 27 March 2004.

Hear StoryHear Story

More InfoBORDER=0
ChatPhilip answers YOUR questions!
ChatWhat do YOU love about his books?
VoteVote for your fave book in the trilogy
ClubHis Dark Materials on stage was amazing!
ClubPullman or Potter?


Past StoriesBORDER=0
Pullman 'thrilled by play of his books'
Pullman 'not that keen on LOTR'
Children's author scoops top book prize



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