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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Southampton)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It is incredible to believe that when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1875, electric-powered submarines, stoves, heating, generators, motors, and search lights - not to mention diving apparatus, aqualungs and wetsuits - were the stuff of science fiction. Indeed the electric light bulb was not to be perfected for another 11 years! Such a visionary was Verne, that many of the concepts invented or expanded upon in his works, have gone on to be part of our everyday lives. However his novels continue to inspire and fill us with the wonder that contemporary audiences must have experienced when first reading of his extra-ordinary characters and their fantastical adventures.

Directed by The Nuffield Theatre’s associate director Russ Tunney - who has a track record of creating imaginative and inspiring theatre, aimed at children but enjoyed equally by parents! – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea tells the story of renowned scientist, Professor Aronnax, and Ned Land, the King of Harpooners, sent on a secret mission to capture a mysterious creature that has been wreaking havoc on the high seas! Joined by Aronnax’s faithful and devoted assistant Conseille, their adventures lead them to explore underwater forests and shipwrecks, the legendary lost city of Atlantis and to travel on the most fabulous invention of them all – The Nautilus – commanded by the fearsome Captain Nemo!

Coming from the same team that last year brought us the superb Alice in Wonderland, and with the promise of such great adventures, I was perhaps hoping for too much from this production, and am a tad disappointed that the magic and fantasy of my imagination does not translate perfectly on to the stage. It is too much to expect that vast sweeping underwater worlds and monster octopus can be realistically recreated on stage, but spectacle can be conjured with just a little more invention than this production has to offer.

There are nice touches, most especially in the use of the talented troupe of young performers, who support the five-strong cast, as an impressive reticulated monster shark, and in the performances of the actors (led by Peter Duncan as Ned, Rory Murray as Aronnax and Keddy Sutton as Conseille) which do make you believe, for the most part, that you are in an extra-ordinary underwater world. But for me, the wonder is not quite there.

Michael Magnet and Granville Saxton (an impressive villainous turn as Nemo) complete the cast. Fabrice Serafino has designed a simple, but effective set, and the clever use of video projection through a porthole in the Nautilus set allows us to catch a glimpse of the marine life and particularly the monstrous beast which threatens to destroy the vessel. Matt Baker’s score is again impressive and appropriate and adds to the narrative, without detracting from the suspense.

Although not quite living up to its promise, and requiring a little too much imagination from the audience for my liking, this is another fine drama that children of all ages can enjoy.


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