THE BOOK OF DUST: LA BELLE SAUVAGE
The Drowned World
RELEASED Running until 26 FEBRUARY
Director Nicholas Hytner
Location Bridge Theatre, London
Like the three Dark Materials instalments before it, this first volume in Philip Pullman’s companion trilogy makes an exhilarating transition to the stage.
Set over a decade before the opening of Northern Lights, with Lyra a mere baby, the focus is on innkeeper’s son Malcolm Polstead, who takes a shine to her as she’s cared for by the nuns that live across the river from his family’s pub. Although the ensuing events occur when Polstead is only 12, you quickly forget that Samuel Creasey – making an impressive theatrical debut here – is in his twenties as you get swept up by his boundless, James Cordenesque exuberance.
He forms a fractious partnership with spiky pot girl
Alice Parslow (a formidable Ella Dacres), who comes to his aid as Malcolm sets out in his trusty canoe – the titular La Belle Sauvage – in a desperate attempt to keep Lyra out of the clutches of the authoritarian Magisterium.
The flooded Thames valley is evocatively depicted by the spectacular visual effects, creating a real sense of depth. But it’s the daemons – presented using War Horse-style puppets – that really capture your heart, and sinister theologian Gerard Bonneville’s malevolent hyena daemon surely ranks among the most disturbing puppets ever.
Adding some humorous references which make more sense in our world than Lyra’s, Bryony Lavery’s script really pares back the sometimes convoluted story, making for a breathless and compelling two and a half hours. Stephen Jewell
Don’t live near London? La Belle Sauvage will be broadcast live to cinemas around the country on 17 February.