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The Art of Darkness: Staging the Philip Pullman trilogy
The Art of Darkness: Staging the Philip Pullman trilogy
by Robert Butler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Artistic Darkness, 22 Jan. 2004
Book Review
Title: The Art of Darkness – Staging the Philip Pullman trilogy
Author: Robert Butler
Publisher: National Theatre/Oberon Books (2003)
The Author: Robert Butler is a freelance journalist. From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. He has been involved with the National Theatre in several roles since the mid Eighties, and is the author of two books in the series 'The National Theatre at Work': Humble Beginnings, and Just About Anything Goes.
The Book: The book is divided into six chapters, following a chronological order. Chapter one is an introduction to the play and the books, and tells of the first few days when work on the play had just begun. Chapter two contains an interview with Philip Pullman and with Nicholas Wright. Chapters three to six cover the work that was done on converting the books into a stage play, including costumes, set design, sound, lighting and every other possible area – not in the least the struggle to represent the dæmons in a convincing manner. The book contains a lot of behind-the-scenes photographs that really help give the reader an insight into the whole process of converting the His Dark Materials books to the stage. It’s also littered with quotes and conversations from people working on all areas of the play.
My Opinion: The National Theatre describes the book as follows:
In writing the backstage account of His Dark Materials, Robert Butler follows Nicholas Hytner and his creative team over the six months leading to the first performance of both plays. The question running through it is the one anyone asks who knows the books: How are they going to do it?
When I first saw this book, and read the description, it immediately made it onto my books-to-read list, since I was really interested to read how the National had managed to create a stage play from the His Dark Materials books. When I’d actually seen the stage play, and greatly enjoyed it, I was even more determined to read the book as soon as possible. That was why I was quite excited to review this book.
However, I was expecting the book to be quite fact/reference driven, and written in formal “textbook” style. I was surprised to find that the book is written in a manner that makes for a very pleasant read. Mr. Butler manages to tell the story of the creation of the play in a very entertaining fashion that is accessible to a wide audience. The book is brimming with intimate observations as the play evolved from initial form to its final shape, and convincingly portrays the many difficult choices faced by the crew trying to pack Mr. Pullman’s universe into the limitations of space and time imposed by the theatre. This is a struggle, even for a venue as grand as the National – and Mr. Butler involves us wholeheartedly.
The book even contains some completely new information about the movies. When discussing the role of the panserbjørne in the play Robert Butler writes:
“When Philip Pullman heard that rehearsals had moved from presenting the bears as comic figures to presenting them seriously, he said the same process had taken place in the screen play, which had started out using the bears as light relief. That section of the screenplay was now being rewritten.”
My Verdict: If you’ve read His Dark Materials, and you’ve seen the stage play, buy this book. If you’ve read His Dark Materials, but will never see the stage play, also buy this book, and acquaint yourself with the magic of the stage production. Don’t buy it if you are going to see the play, since it will spoil the theatrical experience. Finally, if you haven’t read His Dark Materials don’t read it, regardless of whether you have or haven’t seen the stage play. This book contains too much spoilers about His Dark Materials, so read the books first.


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