23RD FEBUARY 2005 - PART 1
His Dark Materials is one of the shows I've wanted to see for ages. I missed the 2003/4 production, to my total incompetence, thinking it'd be easy to get ahold of seats......dur. As a reminder of my foolishness, I had the flyer sat on my desk at uni, as some kind of torture device - "Ha haaa, you missed us!" Then, the National Theatre announces it's running the same production again, encore! My looooovely lovely lovely sister (not sucking up at all) bought me 2 tickets for my 22nd birthday to go see both parts of the show. Of course, she booked herself as well, as she too was desperate to see, and well, it's just never fun on your own, you always need someone to chat about that specific performance with. E.g. wasn't so and so brilliant/gorgeous, how funny was it when whatshisface accidently tripped over, you know what I mean ;) So nasty. Plus we'd both read the books, and were keen to compare (all this fuss over it's anti-religious content - it's only fiction! People don't complain if a book's overly religious, take that Bible book for example ;).

So February finally arrived (the closest date my sister could get good seats for!). It was wellllllllllll worth the wait, I absolutely LOVED it! Stalls, Row E, right in the centre (so no looking up someone's skirt, or squinting through clouds). I know now that the Olivier theatre's stage is meant to be famous for what it can do, but when that set rose up out of the floor for the first time, I turned to Asti, and whispered rather excitedly, "Omigawd!" Not only does that stage spin, it also has another one hidden underneath! Very good for changing scene, not like Les Mis, where you suddenly see some gates noisely rolled onto the stage, heheh. So nice to see sets done so well, *cough* Woman in White. I was really interested to know how the stepping between worlds would be done - big screens, which showed images from one world, and as character stepped through, changed to the next, so one second it was lovely calm water, next it was a red London bus charging towards us, brilliant. Only one hitch with the set - when the polar bear palace (or whatever) is first shown, the curtain wouldn't rise, so we were treated to all their knees and feet for a little while, though of course was very grand when the curtain finally raised ;) Made me laugh, anyway!

I was a little worried at how the daemons were going to be portrayed, as I'll admit I was not much of a fan of The Lion King's stageshow production - where do you look at, the actor's face, or the animal face about a foot above? I found it rather confusing, and so got a bit humpy, though of course all the kids around me loved it and how no problems getting into it. Anyway, if the daemon was moving around of it's own free will, an 'inconspicuous' person dressed all in black would run around controlling it, otherwise the actor themself would craddle it in their arm/pocket, or walk it around on a kinda leash. I'm rather rubbish at describing this, but it all honestly worked very well! The characteristics, especially for Pan (Lyra's daemon) were wonderful, and I especially liked the designs - quite funky colours, with glowing eyes/heads for the darker scenes. And urgh, those snapping jaw wolf daemons were actually rather scary (have recently been drawing wolves at uni, so was quite thrilling!). Mrs Coulter's daemon, an ape (I think), I remembered as being rather creepy from the book, and this version lived up to my expectations - those scary long arms, which it would thump around when agitated, the way it would twist it's head violently, urgh just the way it bounded about unexpectedly. NASTY. So of course I loved it!! Wish there were toys of them in the shop, they'd make a bomb...

I should of course mention the actors! Lyra was played by Elaine Simons, just right for rather annoying little Lyra, who does get more likable as the show progresses. Not quite sure of her accent, is she Irish? Always imagined her character to be rather posh and spoilt, what with living on the grounds of a university in Oxford. But Ms Simmons made her likable, a bit of a rogue tomboy, and she had funny mannerisms. Wil was played by Michael Legge, who really reminded me of someone in my class at university. Also very suitable for the role - he really plays as the audience, as none of us have daemons, so sort of reacts as we would, which is probably why the audience like him. Had the teenage stoop done well, humpy at times, although I'd say a bit too grown up. I'm not talking Blood Brothers here (that was just creepy), just his attitude. Lord Asriel was played by David Harewood, who made the character seem much nicer than I remember, more friendly. Lovely body too, I must say ;D I have to say I never imagined him to be black, and what with Lyra being white as well as her mum, seemed slightly unlikely when he was revealed to be her dad. Still, this is the theatre, and we are meant to be able to suspend our belief at the heavy wooden doors! Lesley Manville as Mrs Coulter was suitably nasty/creepy, and if you didn't know she was Lyra's mum before all was revealed, you'd have to be pretty slow, as every single line she said seemed to have a double meaning! I'd be well terrifyed if I was that actress, having that ape thing lumbering about after me - had this brief vision of running down a doorless corridor, with that thing chasing afterwards. I think it has deeply disturbed me in actual fact!

Ok, best bits: The huge flying monsters that attack the cast as they're in the hot air balloon - those things actually made my jaw hang open! Were massive, made the nastiest noises, and were just very cool puppets, the best I saw that night! The polar bear fight was great, with the red paper as blood, and the sound effects when they attacked each other (STILL didn't know whether to look at the actor's face or the bear face, which he was acting with on his arm, so confusing for someone like me!). The priest's uniforms were great (Fra Pavel looked like Khashoggi from We Will Rock You, and was played by a guy from Stuff Happens which I saw last year, excellent). Would like to have seen the spectres attacking the adult, the flashing lights on his body were not enough for me after I'd seen those bloody great flying things ;) Maybe in the next part...? As we were all leaving, a little American kid in boastful tones said, "Ohh man, I coulda done a better play on my way to [insert restaurant name here]!!" Little brat! All the other kids seemed to have enjoyed it (and there were many - off the subject, but there were loadsa people there younger than me - unlike the usual crowd, 60-80, as a friend of mine jokes ;).

Under 2 weeks till we see the second half, which, I might add, I could easily have sat and watched after the first. Only, urrr, 6 hours in total! Am really interested to see what the angels will look like, when Lyra meets all the dead people, the final battle, and what about that lady on the planet with the wheeled race...? Or am I thinking of something entirely different now... Quite excited though, this has all been well worth the wait! There should have been an uni illustration trip to see this, is very inspiring! My sister inists if she were to have a daemon, it would end up being a spider. I think if I had one, it'd be an elephant, so it'd cause mayhem wherever went, and embarressment as it tried to squeeze into a room. Or a tarantula.

9TH MARCH, 2005
The eagerly-awaited second half to a, ur, trilogy! Earlier that day, there'd been an enlightening talk from the artist David Hughes, and down Oxford's Street HMV, a signing from my fave game creator and (living)artist, Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa (and I MISSED this, which I shall forever kick myself for. But c'mon, who only does a signing for an hour??). After all this stresfful running around, I had my usual pre-theatre coffee, as well as nibbling on some smuggled in shortbread. A bundle of little sheets on the counter in the shop (one of which I nabbed!) said in apologetic tones that the roles of Lyra and Mrs Coulter would be understudied that evening. Oh! Well that's one of the joys of the theatre, to see multiple people performing the same roles. Both were fine. Enjoyed seeing Mrs Coulter (Venessa Earl) being groped by the sexually repressed priest, who reminded me of so many of the guys at my senior school. Desperation written all over them ;) Really liked the music played when she'd enter, was subtle but creepy. Wish they could use that for the film! Michelle Dockery as Lyra seemed a little nervous at first, but I thought she was brilliant, had a pleasant speaking voice.

A side note here, but it seemed like half the cast were wearing Converse basbell boots! I kept squinting to see the 'All Stars' logo on the heel, which I did! ANYWAY, the first act was a little....slow. Perhaps because the scenes didn't change as much, which admittedly is half the appeal of the show for me, watching the fabulous change of scene! The second act was amazing though! Highlight of the entire show has to be those Harpies, which I found scary in the book as it is. The women in these costumes looked huge, with the towering wings, and chased after poor Lyra with voice-synthesised cackling(hee hee!). It was horrible, she was being chased, the set rose, and another 4 appeared!

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