18 December, 2003: Materialism

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Yesterday I went to see the National Theatre's adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. This was really very good and you should all go and see it.

The director, Nicholas Hytner, initially regarded the work as unstageable; what he's done is very cool. I'm not the sort of person to write a review, but some comments:

The trilogy -- in two three-hour parts, making watching it a bit of a marathon -- is staged on a pair of rotating stages, which rise and fall to accomodate different scenes in about two dozen locations, with about half that many different sets; the mechanics are perhaps over-exploited, but the scene changes are almost cinematically smooth, though there were a couple of moments when sounds of hammering could be heard from behind the scenes. (This didn't detract at all, and the production is quite new, so presumably the bugs will be ironed out in due course.)

The dæmons (and Gallivespians) are represented by puppets, so that each character is followed by a puppeteer, who also provides the dæmon's voice; this is extremely -- surprisingly -- effective. (The power of willing-suspension-of-disbelief strikes again....) The scripts were adapted by Nicholas Wright, who's had to add lots of `authorial voice' characters in order to make the story comprehensible on stage; this also allows him to cut a large chunk of the story and bring it down to a manageable length. In my opinion, he's cut the least effective story line, which is something of a win; but the dialogue falls a little short by comparison with the staging.

The stage production makes an interesting comparison to the Radio 4 adaptation; that made extensive use of a narrator, which probably couldn't be made to work on stage. I'm now looking forward to the films, though I expect them to be unremittingly literal.

Update: the Economist has a review of the production, giving away a little bit more about it than I do. It describes the plays as `the season's delight'; I don't really go to the theatre often enough to be able to make any intelligent comment about an entire season; in other respects, I agree with the praise heaped on by the Economist.

Exclusive: That Other Book

Some friends of mine went to see the latest Lord of the Rings film. For those of you who aren't going to waste their money seeing it, I can now reveal exclusively to my half-dozen readers how it ends: apparently Frodo does eventually manage to destroy the Death Star.

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.