The mining of His Dark Materials continues. Philip Pullman’s sprawling allegory started out as a trilogy of fantasy novels published between 1995 and 2000. Adaptations for the big screen, the home screen, and the stage followed. Nicholas Hytner, whose two-part dramatization played London’s National Theatre two decades ago, now turns his boundless imagination to Pullman’s subsequent trilogy, The Book of Dust, which the author says is neither a sequel nor a prequel, but an “equel” that extends the original timeline at both ends.

As adapted by Bryony Lavery and filmed live at London’s Bridge Theatre in March 2022, Hytner’s first installment is pure prequel, focusing on the infancy of Lyra Belacqua, fruit of the adultery committed by the diabolical Marisa Coulter and the swashbuckling Lord Asriel. Incidentally, it also spells out what Dust is. As readers of His Dark Materials have struggled to intuit, it’s an existentially vital yet elusive residue that comes into being spontaneously when inert matter awakens into consciousness or falls into sin. (Got that?)

According to prophecy, Lyra is the Second Eve, born to unlock new worlds of forbidden knowledge. That’s music to the ears of the feminist sisterhood of Witches but anathema to the patriarchal, ecclesiastical “Magisterium.” So the plot at any given point comes down to this: Who’s got the baby? The nuns who hide her in an oven? The secret police?

On the big screen, the roles of Asriel and Mrs. Coulter fell to Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. In the three-season HBO series, James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson did the honors. The charisma that all four brought to their parts paid off in spades, especially in the Mrs. Coulters, by far the more mesmerizing character. At the Bridge Theatre, their avatars are John Light and Ayesha Darker, space-holding talents who might have been cast for their surnames.

The characters who shine on the Bridge stage are Lyra’s youthful protectors, rising heroically to their cosmic challenge. The strapping, stentorian Samuel Creasey plays Malcolm Polstead, an 11-year-old pub owner’s son who answers to the snide nickname “Professor” and comes in for boatloads of fat-shaming. Ella Dacres takes on the 15-year-old runaway Alice Parslow, who has mothered many siblings and knows how to think on her feet. The chemistry between the two is prickly, but it works. Their escape on the raging Thames in Malcolm’s canoe La Belle Sauvage triggers all the old-school mechanical stagecraft and new-fangled immersive electronics at Hytner’s command. A second Prospero, he whips up quite the Tempest.

The Book of Dust is available for streaming on the National Theatre at Home Web Site

Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL.He lives in Hawaii