“Philip Pullman’s a passion for me”, says Co-Director Tim Rowland. “Up there with Tolkien. And I love production too
– which is why there are two massive 8 ft bears in armour clogging up my dining room this morning.”
I loved His Dark Materials – the trilogy – and am fascinated to hear what it’s been like staging this brilliant, ambitious subject. At the end of the month, Lewes Theatre Youth Group is putting on the first of a two part adaption by Nicholas Wright. It’s being directed by Tim, alongside James Firth-Haydon. “And”, says Tim “we have an assistant director too, a trainee; he’s also called Tim. So very much a group effort.”
The lead characters are Will and Lyra – “Will’s very much in this, yes,” says Tim, “though I still think of it as Lyra’s story. My wife and I like Lyra so much we nearly named our daughter after her!”
And one of the baddies is of course Mrs Coulter, I say, who’s the chilling character who’s most stayed with me. “She’s one of those brilliant villains”, Tim agrees. “Very real – two-sided. So you can see it from her point of view. And she’s got these double standards. You’ve got this person who’s completely immoral, but she won’t let these things happen to her own daughter. Though I have to say, for my money, Lord Asriel is more evil.”
Another aspect of Pullman’s creation that’s so compelling and memorable is the story’s ‘daemons’ – the literal representation of each character’s animal or instinctual side. How on stage will they depict these?
“We have actors playing the daemons”, Tim says; “they’re holding modelled heads. We’ve adapted ideas from Augusto Boal: the daemon actors hold the heads, then move them in tandem with their human counterparts. So, not a literal representation at all, and it may take a while for the audience to cotton on. When they do, we think they’ll love it.”
The nastiest character, to Tim’s mind, is Mrs Coulter’s daemon the Golden Monkey. “Yeah, he’s a really scary little creature”, shudders Tim. “Especially, for instance, when he pins down Pan, who’s Lyra’s daemon.”
It all sounds brilliant: I can’t wait. And how’s it working with young actors, I ask? Different from adults?
“Very,” says Tim. “It’s so rewarding: they listen, and we treat them like professionals, and they respond really well. Some listen with pencils in their hands, which is brilliant!”
And theatre, more generally? What does he think it contributes to a community? “Ah,” sighs Tim, “theatre is and should be all about community. I think it should be bigger than it is in Lewes. It’s all about everyone meeting up. Above all else, I think it should be about FUN. Everyone having fun, and having fun together – the audience, the whole community, not just actors.”
I must admit, his enthusiasm’s contagious.
Lewes Little Theatre from 25-27th Jan, and from 1-3rd Feb. Tickets £8/£6.