The National Theatre's hotly anticipated – and already completely sold out - adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials at last receives its world premiere tomorrow, Saturday 3 January 2004. Nicholas Wright's two-part stage version of Pullman's award-winning children's book trilogy was originally due to open at the NT Olivier on Saturday 20 December 2003, but the press day performances were postponed after ‘insuperable’ technical difficulties and the cancellation of several previews (See News, 8 Dec 2003).

At the time, NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who's also directing the productions, said: "When I took this on, I thought it was unstageable. Now I know that we can do it - but we need more time to get this hugely ambitious production right. With hindsight, I should have scheduled more time. We have had to cancel the first previews of both parts. I apologise unreservedly to the people we've had to turn away. We're scheduling extra performances to accommodate those people."

His Dark Materials is a coming of age and a transforming spiritual experience for Lyra and Will (played by Anna Maxwell Martin and Dominic Cooper). Their great quest demands a savage struggle against the most dangerous of enemies. They encounter fantastical creatures in parallel worlds - rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, child-catching Gobblers and the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. Finally, before reaching, perhaps, the republic of heaven, they must visit the land of the dead.

The cast also includes former 007 Timothy Dalton, Niamh Cusack and Patricia Hodge as well as Samuel Barnett, John Carlisle, Patrick Godfrey, Stephen Greif, Jamie Harding, Akbar Khurta, Inika Leigh Wright, Helen Lymbery, Tim McMullan, Helen Murton, Cecilia Noble, Nick Sampson, Danny Sapani, Jason Thorpe, Russell Tovey, Ben Whishaw, Ben Wright and Richard Youman.

Philip Pullman's original trilogy comprises Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. In addition to other awards, the last title in the series won both the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year and Whitbread Book of the Year, the first children's book to win the main prize in the award's history.

According to NT promotional material, the theatrical version is "an epic production both in its narrative scope and its staging, involving artists from new technologies as well as old, and aims to create an experience as meaningful for 12-year-olds as for adults." It's designed by Giles Cadle with costumes by Jon Morrell, puppets by Michael Curry, lighting by Paule Constable, choreography by Aletta Collins, music by Jonathan Dove, fights by Terry King and sound by Paul Groothuis.

- by Terri Paddock