TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”

TV Review: His Dark Materials Episode 1

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form

“In every child’s nightmare, there is an element of truth”

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form. Written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hooper, this first episode set the tone marvellously, balancing all the detail needed for world-building for newcomers and yet still maintaining enough magic to hook in those more seasoned fans of the work.

I definitely count myself in that latter category. The books were the first I ever hungered for in waiting for the publication of the second and third in the trilogy. The National Theatre production ranks as one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a theatre and I trekked to Bath and Salford to see subsequent revivals. I even don’t think the film adaptation of The Golden Compass is the worst thing in the world, honest… Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Episode 1”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Review: Grimm’s Tales – Shoreditch Town Hall, London

“If my mother tells me not to leave the path again, then that’s what I’ll do”

A shoebrush becomes a baby hedgehog, a repurposed umbrella a mournful songbird, a coil of rope Rapunzel’s long tresses. For the eight people roaming the nooks and crannies beneath Shoreditch Town Hall, anything they find can be co-opted into their storytelling, as they give us their versions of Grimm’s fairy tales, although some will be more familiar than others. And it is not strictly their version, as Philip Wilson’s production uses Philip Pullman’s adaptation of the stories to weave a subtle kind of magic.

The show describes itself as immersive, but it is a gentler kind of immersion than most, probably better described as site-responsive. For the audience are split into two groups and taken on a journey from room to room, through five performances which draw us into their orbit, yet ask little of us but our attention (in case the notion of interaction causes any anxiety). And it is hard not to be enchanted as the company weave their spell through the darker stretches of the imagination – happily ever after doesn’t always seem guaranteed in this world. Continue reading “Review: Grimm’s Tales – Shoreditch Town Hall, London”

Weekend #3 – Philip Pullman

I love it when you stumble on greatness unexpectedly and so it was with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The first book Northern Lights was bought for me (probably by Aunty Jean or my mum) and I remember loving it from the off, and the fact that we then had to wait, like properly wait, for the second and third installations, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, was an exquisite kind of torture, the best kind of anticipation and one that I haven’t really had with a book since. Investigating the rest of his canon made me a genuine fan and so I’ve kept a keen eye on adaptations of his work.

This weekend sees me revisiting the ill-fated film adaptation of Northern Lights, The Golden Compass and the two Sally Lockhart mysteries that were on the BBC a few years back – The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North.

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”

DVD Review: The Shadow in the North

“I thought you had a bit of milk in your coconut”

The second (and last) of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries to be adapted for the television, The Shadow in the North very much pales in the shadow of The Ruby in the Smoke for me as the lesser of the two, which is a real shame as I did love the latter and felt it showed great promise in setting up the mini-franchise. This story sees Sally following up a client who has lost her savings after investing in a company, on Sally’s advice, which went bust suspiciously. The mysterious industrialist behind that company the Swedish Axel Bellman quickly set up again and so Sally’s instincts are aroused as she investigates the business dealings in order to get compensation for her client. But accusing such a powerful man of corruption and fraud sets her on a most dangerous course and puts the lives of those around her at severe risk.

So the ingredients are there, and the story is one I enjoyed reading, but something was just missing. The mystery never quite has the drive to keep the story going, the tone ends up being rather dour rather than dark and subsequently doesn’t grip like it ought. And its nature means that Billie Piper’s Sally is given less chance to interact with the key players around her – it is Pullman’s fault rather than the show’s but it is a real shame that Hayley Atwell’s Rosa is dispatched to marital bliss in the country within 10 minutes of the show starting as they made a great team. Instead, the personal intrigue is around whether Sally will admit to her feelings for JJ Feild’s Fred (still so handsome!) and Matt Smith’s Jim, thankfully no longer the narrator, hangs around like a bit of a spare part, though gets to do a lot of the investigating (bizarrely though off-screen and on his own…). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Shadow in the North”

DVD Review: The Golden Compass

“There are worlds beyond our own”

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials are amongst my favourite novels ever, and the National Theatre’s adaptation of the stories into a two-part play was a stunning interpretation that also ranks amongst my all-time favourites (I also trekked to Bath to see a youth theatre production and to the Lowry for a touring version). So the news of a film version of the first story, The Golden Compass (as it was renamed for the North American market from its original title Northern Lights) left me quite excited, though a little trepidatious at how Pullman’s writing would survive the Hollywood machine.

As it turns out, it didn’t really. Studio politics, script issues and intense pressure from Catholic organisations meant that the project had a most difficult genesis and creative process, Chris Weitz ending up writing and directing despite leaving the project and several other people working on it. So the tale of Lyra Belacqua’s brave journeying to the frozen north in a parallel universe to rescue her friend Roger as the mysterious Lord Asriel sets about a discovery that will challenge the highest Authority in the land which is so incredibly rich and detailed in the novel loses depth and magic to become just another special effects-laden fantasy flick. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Golden Compass”

Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit straight off that the production of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre ranks as my ultimate top theatrical experience ever. I am a massive fan of the books, and could not believe how well Nicholas Wright translated the three novels into two such wonderful, moving plays. Having travelled to Bath to see the youth production at the Theatre Royal there a couple of years ago, I was easily convinced to see the new Birmingham Repertory touring production at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, especially as it was so close to my parental home. So my mother and father, Aunty Jean and I settled in for the same day double bill, Part I at 2pm and Part II at 7.30pm, a little bum-numbingly daunting I’ll admit, but the only way to get the full impact of this theatrical wonder.
 
So much happens in the books and so whilst a lot is lost in the condensing of the action, this is largely to the benefit of the plays as the pacing is kept quite high, with many rapid scene changes which means that you really do have to listen carefully or else you could lose the thread quite quickly if you’re hugely familiar with the plot. That said, I was with two people who had not read the books and they had no problem following the action.

Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry”

Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre

Established as probably my favourite theatrical experience ever when it played the National Theatre, when I heard that the Young People’s Theatre company at the Theatre Royal Bath were putting on a production thanks to the Guardian’s Guide, tickets were booked to take in the day’s entertainment. The translation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy into two plays is one of the most sympathetic adaptations of literature to theatre I can remember and they are amongst my favourite books, yet the way in which they’ve been edited really works, slicing out the more obtuse threads of the final novel and focusing on the harrowing journey that the young protagonists have to make.

Even without the magnificent set that utilised the drum of the Olivier Theatre to its full extent, this is an ambitious project for any theatre to take on, never mind a youth group but they have risen to the challenge pulling together a cast of over 150 10-18 year olds with more than 300 costumes and 100 puppets created especially for this production. The story takes us on a thrilling journey with Lyra and Will, 12 year old kids who live in parallel worlds who are thrown together by destiny on a huge quest which takes them from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the frozen wastes of the North to the darkest of all places as they both search for something precious to their hearts, facing a range of challenges: rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, child-catching Gobblers and the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre”