REVIEW | The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage | Bridge Theatre | NT Live
I can’t believe it was 18 years ago that I saw Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials from the National Theatre with incredible puppets provided by Blind Summit. I can still remember it vividly. I was gripped from start to finish and sat for 15 minutes after the show weeping in the stalls with my friend… until an old lady came and jabbed us with her stick… which I think was her way of gently encouraging us to leave.
Anyway… It’s safe to say I had immensely high hopes for this show!
And, wow, I was not disappointed!
A prequel to the Northern Lights saga, La Belle Sauvage is the first in The Book of Dust trilogy, and shows Lyra’s start in life told through the eyes of Malcolm Polstead, portrayed wonderfully and seemingly effortlessly by Samuel Creasy.
As the Magisterium rises, so does the water level and Malcolm, along with his childhood enemy Alice, are forced to set off on an adventure protecting Lyra and the prophecy that comes with her.
Though relatively simply staged this production was brought to life with exquisite puppetry and seamlessly intertwined AV.
Barnaby Dixon’s puppetry makes its stage debut with incredibly delicate daemons (or animals whose souls and beings are interwoven with their humans, for those of you who haven’t read the books) are beautifully made in all white, lit from the inside and adding new dynamics to the stage.
The video and animation from Luke Halls bring the stage to life with illustrations inspired by the book taking you on a journey from realistic locations to magical realms naturally and organically.
Strangely apt for the moment with undercurrents of extremist political rising, it is incredibly dark and powerful with the right amount of comic quips throughout, provided by writer Bryony Lavery, to lighten the mood and make this show an enchanting reimagining of Philip Pullman’s enthralling novel.
In these dark times we live in I encourage everyone to get lost in this fantasy universe in this production of pure brilliance.
The Arts Business Top Tips
- I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before but it certainly bears repeating. Get creative with existing Children’s books. They already have a pre-existing fanbase and often authors are more than willing to work alongside theatre companies or creative businesses to help bring their work to life on a new level. And if not you can always take books from the canon, traditional classics, that are out of copyright and available to reinterpret to your heart’s content.
- Utilising projection is a simple way of creating settings without having to design and build an enormous amount of scenery. Don’t get me wrong, the projection in this show is far from simple. You’d need a pretty solid team of animators and technicians to work wizardry like that created for La Belle Sauvage. But you can still achieve a similar aesthetic with a lower budget and think of the benefits. You’re spending a similar amount of money as you would upfront for set design and construction but when it comes to touring your show you have saved colossal amounts of space, time and therefore budget!
- In case you hadn’t realised by now… I frigging LOVE PUPPETS! In my opinion, they make a great addition to literally any project ever! But it’s the puppets seen in La Belle Sauvage which are so exquisitely engineered which really take this production to the next level! Most of these puppets are created to be incredibly lifelike in their movements but, in most cases, are controlled with only one hand. This means they can be manipulated by the actor (from a budget perspective negating the cost of additional puppeteers) in a way that benefits their overall performance and characterisation. Beautiful and Brilliant!