Lesley Manville and David Harewood will star as Ms Coulter and Lord Asriel in the recast production of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which will return this winter to the NT Olivier, running from 8 December 2004 (previews from 20 November) to 8 April 2005.

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference on publication of the National’s 2003/2004 Annual Review (See News, 7 Sep 2004), NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who directs Nicholas Wright’s two-part adaptation of the children’s fantasies, said that the piece had undergone rewrites, including some “interesting narrative changes in Part 2”, after lessons learnt from the premiere season this past winter.

Hytner vowed yesterday that this would be the final season for the production on the South Bank, and added, “I can guarantee that His Dark Materials is non-transferrable.”

The stage version of Pullman's award-winning children's book trilogy was originally due to receive its world premiere on 20 December 2003, but the press day was postponed, until 3 January 2004, after ‘insuperable’ technical difficulties (See News, 8 Dec 2003). One of the hottest theatre tickets in town last Christmas, the first season sold out well before any reviews hit the stands. Demand sparked off bidding wars on auction websites and extra performances were added in March (See News, 9 Jan 2004).

His Dark Materials is a coming of age and a transforming spiritual experience for Lyra and Will. 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.

Manville has appeared in multiple Mike Leigh films, including Topsy Turvy, High Hopes and Secrets and Lies. Amongst her many stage credits are Rita Sue and Bob Too, Serious Money, Three Sisters (Royal Court) The Cherry Orchard (West End) and Les Liaisons Dangereuses (RSC). Harewood previously played Othello for the National and was more recently seen on the London stage in Peribanez at the Young Vic. His TV credits include The Vice, Babyfather and A & E.

Manville and Harewood are joined in the new cast of His Dark Materials by Elaine Symons and Michael Legge as Lyra and Will, as well as Adjoa Andoh (Serafina Pekkala), John Carlisle (Lord Boreal), Michelle Dockery, Don Gallagher, Ian Gelder, Jamie Harding (Pantalaimon), Darren Hart, Leo Kay, David Killick, Samantha Lawson, , Elliot Levey, Emma Manton, Tom McKay, Iain Mitchell, Victoria Moseley, Helen Murton, and Nick Sampson.

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.

The stage production is 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