To start with – a confession. I have never read any of Jules Verne’s trilogy of voyages extraordinairies novels, nor have I seen any film versions of it before watching this competent adaptation by Not Cricket Productions; a theatre performance scripted with admirable economy and rendered with an entertaining liveliness that is sustained throughout the play. It is to their merit that I leave the venue wondering how my childhood bookshelf could do with Vernes in the company of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series and Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
The performers capture that elusive sense of childish wonder and adventure.
For the plot is highly reminiscent, and follows a standard formula: Axelle, the heroine, lives a well-to-do life in Hamburg, before she is forced by her eccentric uncle (Professor Lidenbrock) to go on a dangerous expedition to the inner core of the earth itself. Consistently alluded to is the idea that the virtue of the voyage lies not in the reaching of the destination, but in the reward of the experiential process itself, and the performers capture that elusive sense of childish wonder and adventure.
To this end, certain theatricalities of the performance deserve more prominence. More uses of the backstage (if there were any at all in the play) particularly in the beginning scene at Axelle’s Hamburg home, for example, can serve as a point of contrast to the immersive spectacle of their impending voyage, which involves a series of perilous travels through enclosed spaces – be it on the unstable raft on a tumultuous sea, or within the terrifying core of an exploding volcano. There is more room for physical comedy as well in the characters’ traversals and travails, and a subtler choreography could emphasise the precariousness of their circumstance, and the eccentricities of their situation to an even higher degree. As is stands, the show continually held back from making the most out of its staging.
That said, the acting is solid by the ensemble. Their considerable potential is what drives this largely physical performance, regularly sparkles with a charisma that's delightful to watch. This play is definitely one for the family, providing stimulating adventure for the young and buoyant company for the world-wearied.