The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage has opened at the Bridge Theatre in London.
Based onPhilip Pullman’s acclaimed book, director Nicholas Hytner returns to Pullman’s work after his award-winning adaptation of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre in 2004.
This 2017 prequel to His Dark Materials, set 12 years earlier, sees Hytner once again tackle Pullman’s parallel universe to direct this gripping adaptation by Bryony Lavery.
The story centres on two young people and their dæmons, with everything at stake. They find themselves at the centre of a terrifying manhunt. In their care is a tiny child called Lyra Belacqua, and in that child lies the fate of the future. And as the waters rise around them, powerful adversaries conspire for mastery of Dust: salvation to some, the source of infinite corruption to others.
Reviews are in from the Guardian, Times, Telegraph and more.
The Book of Dust reviews
"A theatrical marvel. Nicholas Hytner brings a dazzling wizard’s touch to this adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy tale"
"The stage is action-filled with one dangerous turn after another, which reflects the spirit of the original faithfully, albeit unleavened by the deeper philosophical ruminations in the book. The production only falls short of perfection for those who find themselves flagging at Pullman’s – rather than Hytner’s – breakneck pace and plotting."
"What is more remarkable is the production’s ability to keep closely to Pullman’s earth-bound and realistic brand of fantasy. Just as in Hytner’s previous production, the daemons are puppets (kingfishers, lemurs, badgers, each as gorgeous as the next). Designed and directed by Barnaby Dixon, they are a marvel and glow from within like luminous origami. They seem like Jungian projections rather than airy, fantastical creatures."
"Here is the ultimate Christmas show – with sacrilegious twists."
"Cosmic epichas strings attached"
"Neutrals will be scratching their heads over the plot twists but can at least enjoy Samuel Creasey’s exuberant, James Corden-ish performance as Malcolm, a cheeky pot boy in a Thames-side pub who has to display all the quick wits of a superhero to stay one step ahead of the forces of darkness."
"Be warned: this is not a show for young children. The dissolute Gerard Bonneville (stylishly played by Pip Carter) is unabashed about his desire to seduce young Alice. Pullman and Lavery bring us face to face with a banal kind of evil."
"Disappointing daemons and a surprisingly pedestrian adventure"
"Lavery does her best to hack through the dense thicket of plot, but Creasey’s likeable Malcolm is lumbered with gobs of exposition that sap dramatic tension. Nor is the production’s visual language as thrilling as hoped."
"Bob Crowley’s sets and Luke Halls’s video give the teeming rain and bucolic backdrops a flavour of William Blake’s prints, and the canoe glides elegantly enough."
"Grown-ups are not to be trusted; Malcolm and Alice, adolescent surrogate parents to the vulnerable Lyra, are a poignant symbol of hope. There’s a nagging sense that the piece is groping for a significance and theatrical magic that stubbornly elude it. But it still has its ripples of inky glitter."
"A promising adaptation cursed by its daemons"
"Nicholas Hytner's new Philip Pullman adaptation at the Bridge Theatre has plenty going for it but currently feels like a Christmas curio"
"A galloping adventure of wonder and confusion"
"Philip Pullman’s prequel to His Dark Materials makes for a breathlessly hectic jumble of events on stage"
"Even though playwright Bryony Lavery has streamlined, clarified and occasionally improved the story, this remains a breathlessly hectic jumble of events, overlaid with a half-scientific, half-mystical humanist message. "
"I suspect kids taken to see this show will gulp down its copious pleasures and skim over the difficult, grown-up bits. I left it, as I often do with Pullman’s work, simultaneously elated and deflated, exhausted from chasing one narrative high after another."
"Nicholas Hytner directs a spirited stab at adapting Philip Pullman’s baffling ‘His Dark Materials’ prequel"
"At least this fluent and visually beautiful show from Nick Hytner’s Bridge Theatre is neither cynical nor a car crash. It’s sometimes batshit but never boring. Its good and bad qualities stem from Bryony Lavery’s pedestrian adaptation of a book which is phenomenally hard to stage. ‘The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage’ revolves around two kids and a six-month-old baby, and has a plot that unravels madly – mostly on a canoe on a flooded Thames – with so many thrills, spills and mythical bit parts, even the fans argue about WTF it means."
"I would take older children or fans to see this and be confident they’d find something to enjoy and to argue about afterwards. But it’s no ‘War Horse’, and certainly no ‘Northern Lights’."
"A rollicking adaptation"
"At the Bridge rather than the Olivier, on stage rather than in a book, Hytner and adapter Bryony Lavery have quite a challenge to make the story satisfying on its own terms while nestling into a wider mythology. They mostly rise to it."
"Puppeteered paper daemons with illuminated heads catch the strange magic of human souls in animal form. Some disappoint, like Mrs Coulter’s golden monkey daemon, but others – the three-legged hyena of the deranged Gerard Bonneville – bring chills. The hideous empty cackle of Julie Atherton as the hyena’s puppeteer paired with the oleaginous charm of Pip Carter’s perverted Bonneville make for a grimly memorable antagonist."
"While Lavery’s adaptation rollicks along entertainingly, with an unrelenting sense of forward motion from Hytner and many moments that stun, it seems in conflict less with its forebears and more with itself, stripping away too much to feel epic and yet still slightly lost in having to explain its expansive mythology."
"‘His Dark Materials’ Prequel Is a Triumph of Theatrical Storytelling"
"For such an episodic story, the surprise of the night is the level of emotion the production ultimately engenders. It’s a tribute as much to Lavery and Hytner’s glowing work as it is to Pullman’s tale that after the excitements of the epic life-and-death journey, the ending, which could risk sentimentality, turns out to be redolent of the best classic work built around young characters: It’s as satisfying for parents as it is for children."