Monday, July 30, 2007

"His Dark Materials (Part II)" - July 2007

After the ups and downs that Part I provided, we went into this with a little less enthusiasm than we normally would, for fear of another marathon performance. By the end of the evening Part II had proved to be a little lacking in polish, technically challenged, at times confusing but most of all hugely enjoyable...

From early on it was clear that Part II was going to play up the humour in the piece, and along with some stylish direction and design choices this helped grab the audience from the outset. With a cast change from Part I we were cleverly and effectively re-introduced to our characters as they stepped in and out of spotlights repeating elements of dialogue of Part I which also served as "Previously on..." for those needing a short reminder. These nice touches continued with the flipchart "this is where we are" scene, the well driven on stage 'vehicle', and the radio transmissions.

Sarah Helena Ord and Mark Wilson performed well as "Lyra" and "Will" while Robert Tracey as "Lord Asriel" and Lousie Mackay as "Mrs Coulter" were particularly strong, especially together. The Daemons were all well portrayed but were generally less active and involved than before, and Ashleigh Kate Wilson and Maread Ladyman put in show stealing performances as "Salmakia" and "Tialys". It was also nice to see Fiona Murray and Yanael Queval return to continue their good work as the older "Lyra" and "Will" from Part I.

The supporting cast did well although a few stumbled lines and the aforementioned technical difficulties such as missing/miscued sound effects and a curtain issue at the start of Act II did mean that it wasn't as polished as we've become used to for the Scottish Youth Theatre. While this is understandable given the scale of the production and the ambition of effectively running two shows at once, I'd worry it may detract from the enjoyment the cast feel at the end of a performance.

However, for the audience Part II certainly had the sense of fun that was somewhat missing from Part I, and had a pace that ensured it ran to time, and was sufficient enough to overcome the problems and a hugely anticlimactic final 'confrontation'.

I remain unsure of the wisdom of the SYT decision to undertake such challenging material in such a short timescale. The SYT pieces I've enjoyed most in the past have also tended to be those that the cast have seemed to have a little more involvement in the development of. Although while thinking up suitable alternatives for next year, my best suggestion would be the stage version of "Strictly Ballroom". But whatever they come up with - we'll be there to see it.