Review: His Dark Materials (Part 1) at The Nuffield Theatre

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The Nuffield Youth Theatre decided to take on the challenge of conveying such a complex storyline on stage, and Part 1 was a roaring success.

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The epic trilogy of His Dark Materials follows Lyra, and her dæmon Pan, on their quest for the truth about Lyra’s heritage, other worlds, and the mystical dust. It is a tale of fantasy and science, balanced on the concept of Original Sin and the death of God itself. The Nuffield Youth Theatre decided to take the challenge of conveying such a complex storyline on stage, and Part 1 was a roaring success.

Youth theatre is always surrounded with a chorus of proud babbling parents, reluctant siblings, and not a whole lot else. Since the dawn of time, school plays have been a thing many dread to attend or even star in, with hard work and determination coming together to create something that is perhaps not quite as polished as the frazzled drama teachers had depicted. However, the Nuffield Youth Theatre demonstrates that with the correct tools and a highly professional approach, drama performance can be a thing of wonders for stars (and audience members) of all ages.

Indeed, the production value of this stage performance must have been high. Superb stage design, incredibly well thought out puppetry, and believable costumes brought the world of Lyra and Oxford to life, immersing the audience in Pullman’s fantasy. The use of levels, props, and moving stage sections helped move the world in which the characters were traveling through. The incredibly designed and skilfully acted puppetry was perhaps the gem of the show, demonstrating that more can be said with a monkey’s howl than a whole monologue. So much emotion was carried through the dæmons, making their emotional connection to the character on stage even more believable. It was a wonder to behold.

The acting in itself was incredibly professional and highly captivating. Although beginning tentative and slow, the cast quickly picked up speed and become more comfortable on a stage where they looked so at home later on in the play. Indeed, Caitlin Curtis (Part 1’s Lyra Belacqua) became one with her character, bringing a feisty 12 year old girl to life on stage. Everything from her costume, to her mannerisms, and even her movements on stage, were at one with the image I had cast in my imagination so many years ago upon first reading the novels. Her childlike wonder evenly matched her rebellious stand-offish attitude. Other noteworthy performances came from Gabriella Gibbs (the beautiful yet fearsome Mrs Coulter), Oscar Li (Dæmon Pantalaimon’s puppet master), Sam Lodge (the rather eery and frightening Golden Monkey), and Holly Brogden (the cosmic witch leader Serafina Pekkala).

My only real issue with the play was the lack of microphones. The beginning of the show lacked the projection required to fill such a large venue, and I struggled to note the names of all the characters even in the later parts of the show. Furthermore, this meant that the volume levels throughout shifted, from quiet dialogue to high pitched screams, which startled me slightly. Overall, the only thing required is an investment in some microphones for key characters, or to invest and encourage confidence in the actors by allowing them to get it wrong and facilitate improvisation to fill any awkward moments.

Overall, the dedication and skill of the actors and actresses on stage was incredible, and made me nostalgic for my own days in youth theatre. The physicality of much of the acting must have wiped out the performers post-show. Congratulations to the Nuffield Youth Theatre, and thank you for the brilliantly air conditioned theatre in which I found myself in.

His Dark Materials: Part 1 is at the Nuffield Theatre. Tickets are priced between £8.00-£18.00 and can be purchased here.

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Head of Events for The Edge magazine. Keen concert goer and angry feminist. Shared recycled oxygen on a 12 hour flight with Foals.

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