His Dark Materials at Birmingham Rep
I recently went to see His Dark Materials (part two) at Birmingham Rep. It really should be called His Dull Materials. This is not so much a production with ideas that failed as a production with no ideas at all. I can't believe that an organisation of this size can take on a production like this without having some artistic vision of how to bring something so complex to the stage. It barely rose above the level of the average school play. In fact, putting aside production values, I have seen many a school play that was better than this. At times it seemed to be simply embarrassingly bad. I presume the fault lies with the directors (I believe it was co-directed). It felt to me as if they were hopelessly out of their depth. I know this show is packing them in (off the back of a famous books) but I could see little merit in it. Of course I went because of the puppetry, for which the very capable Blind Summit have been enlisted. Here there was some good design and much potential, but in the context of the whole show I found that the puppetry quickly became surprisingly irritating. The puppets looked about and walked about very nicely (although extremely repetitively) but they were not used to any significant effect; and when and where they were used seemed rather random. The opportunity for a huge leap to somewhere much more exciting seemed to have been missed. Good puppetry could have been the saving grace here, but I suspect the directors simply had no concept of the potential available to them and used the puppets in a fairly mundane and obvious manner. The possible exception was the bears which did have some impact, but even this was lost as the whole production plodded along at the same pace with actors standing about talking lots of lines trying to cover an impossible amount of plot. I felt sorry for the puppeteers and the actors. Several members of the audiences left during the slow course of the evening. Most of us stuck it out for the whole tedious 3 hours. Some people made the mistake of watching parts one and two on the same day. The phrase 'gluttons for punishment' springs to mind. I guess that the sell out audience probably included a lot of fans of the books who think this kind of production is an acceptable substitute for real drama. I wasn't one of them.