Until Sunday April 20, Theatre Royal Bath.

THE challenge of staging fantasy is a major one, and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which has rapidly achieved iconic status with both teenage and adult readers, requires no small feats of characterisation - how do you portray a person's animal soul?

The courage of the Theatre Royal Bath Young People's Theatre in taking on a production many adult groups would quail at is to be doubly applauded, because they have created a truly spellbinding show.

In two parts, its 147-strong cast of actors, puppeteers and backstage crew do more than bring the books to life. From the reactions of their largely teenage audience at the first performances, they also deepen the understanding of some of Pullman's major themes of love, loss, longing and destiny and make the undercurrents which make the second and third parts of the story so dark and moving rather easier to understand.

There are some amazing performances, from a cast who largely make you forget their ages. Chantal Preston makes a mesmerising Mrs Coulter, Joseph Reynolds is sinuously other-worldly as the daemon Pantalaimon, while the two Wills and three Lyras have stepped into their characters so well the changes are seamless. Wonderful puppetry, from actors who manage to make you see only parts of them while on stage, and a superb shifting shadowy set with projected backdrops add the finishing touches.

Alison Phillips