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Watermill - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

5th April to 6th May 2006.

From Kick FM.

This is Jules Verne’s futuristic story of a scientist, his secretary and a harpooner who go in search of the sea creature that is terrorising shipping. They find it is the submarine Nautilus, and its evil Captain Nemo captures them. Ade Morris’s adaptation has a strange style which is rather like a comic melodrama, but it’s bursting with energy, especially in act one. I felt it ran out of steam a bit in act two, and the whole thing could do with a bit of pruning, but the acting was good, especially the professor and his secretary, and there is a really delightful mime/dance sequence at the end of act one where the adventurers are swimming around with fishes. Not a play for young children, but secondary school kids and grown ups would enjoy it.


From the Guardian.

Two stars
Jules Verne's 19th-century story about the quest for a fearsome monster who lurks in the ocean depths is a tale of adventure and dark secrets, but in Ade Morris's disappointing adaptation it is more of a flabby flounder than a whale of a tale.

Even when the monster of the deep turns out to be of the human kind in the shape of the sinister Captain Nemo, who is not a small lost fish as some of the more fish ignorant of us in the audience initially surmised. I have never read Verne's classic tale that, with its dreams of an electrically propelled submarine, the Nautilus, predated the invention of the electric light bulb by 11 years. Perhaps that accounts for the difficulty I and my two young companions experienced in following the twists and turns of the story.

Even now I am still slightly woolly as to what Nemo really intended to do and why the US government had sent every warship in the world to pursue him. But then you shouldn't have to know the book to follow a stage adaptation any more than you should need to read the script in order to enjoy a new play.

While Verne's imaginative leaps paid dividends, director Will Wollen has forgotten the dictum that keeping it simple in theatre is often the most effective way forward. This hyperactive production is never still for a moment and for every good idea, there's one that should have been discarded in the rehearsal room, including an entire scene played with a torch for lighting. The same inability to fillet seems to afflict Morris's script, which includes long meandering speeches and never really decides whether it is sending the story up or playing it straight.

The second half is an improvement, but it is an uneven and over-long evening that is seldom more than mildly diverting.


From The Times.

Three stars
As a unit of measurement the league is pretty useless, varying between two and five miles depending which country you are measuring from. But a journey extending for 20,000 of them will cover a mighty stretch of sea bed, and feats of imagination are required, from audience as well as director, to suggest that we are, as the story requires, almost constantly under water.
Jules Verne’s classic, part ripping yarn, part maritime guidebook, tells of the mysterious Captain Nemo, master of the giant submarine Nautilus, and his journey of revenge against the unnamed nation that destroyed his family. Reluctant guests aboard are a French scientist, his dapper valet Conseil, and a master harpooner — Canadian in the original, an American ex-slave (Andrew Ufondu) in this version, but seething with anger in both.

The adaptation is the work of Ade Morris, whose splendid I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls, also for this theatre, is currently touring. But even making allowance for the greater problems presented by this new task the result is only so-so. It is entertaining (except when Verne goes into schoolteacher mode) and ingenious too, but often far from credible and the tone frequently contradicts the original.

Peter Marinker’s excellent Nemo, brooding and abrupt, is no longer just a champion of the poor and the enslaved but must commit acts of brutal tyranny against his crew, whom Morris makes mutinous as the climax approaches. I can see no reason for such alteration, whereas the elevation of Professor Aronnax and Conseil, savant and servant, into a comic duo does have dramatic sense.

Paul Hegarty’s professor is a big baby, bursting with recondite facts but hopeless at caring for himself, where Conseil (a most engaging performance by Philippe Spall, airily, smilingly assured) is not only the man to depend on in a crisis but someone who can rattle off the umpteen orders and families of fish.

Amusing as the comedy is, it doesn’t really gel with the dangers of the journey and the eventual pursuit of the Nautilus by the world’s battle fleets. The Expressionist touches Will Wollen gives to his production go some way towards binding the different elements together, adding stripes and bright triangles of face make-up, or sinister stovepipe hats when the cast bring on props or play sea creatures.

The background hum of machinery well suggests the submarine’s power, while by using just a few girders Diego Pitarch’s design hints at its size. And though the bold enterprise isn’t always successful it is hard to resist a show where the cast list includes the names of actors playing Plankton and Krill.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

In the premier league

Director Will Wollen's creativity pays off in this underwater adaptation of a classic

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, at The Watermill, until May 5

You have until the first week in May to discover how the stage of a small (physically) inland theatre can be transformed into the interior of the submarine Nautilus, the hub of one Captain Nemo's empire. Jules Verne, the extraordinarily imaginative author of the original children's classic, would have enjoyed the result.

The production has had its difficulties with a change in cast necessitating a delayed opening night. Not only was this a case of learning a script, but replacements Daniel Wiltshire and Sean Carlsen, playing crew members, had to master the art of mime, including a requirement to become various fishes. My congratulations to them, they were superb.

The strong cast saw Peter Marinker vividly bringing to life the fanatical, tyrannical Captain Nemo who captures scientists sent to investigate the phenomenon which is sinking ships. Paul Hegarty, complete with eyeglass and a rather fetching frilled jacket, gave the Victorian scientific Professor Aronnax a schoolboy enthusiasm combined with avuncularity and Philippe Spall, in perpetual motion as his Belgian secretary Conseil, turned in a performance which was quite simply a delight.

Perhaps it's a Belgian trait to be meticulous and finicky as with that certain rotund detective, and Philippe played this gift of a part for all it was worth, the dialogue accompanied by extravagantly Gallic gestures.

There was no frippery about the fifth cast member, Andrew Ufondu, in a powerful performance as fisherman Ned Land, who is captured with the scientists and has a more aggressive attitude towards Nemo.

The contrast between the four main characters was well established and vitally so ensuring that the dialogue when all the cast were on stage was often electric.

Especially clever was the 'underwater' scene, the cast slowly moving around the stage interwoven by "fish" (loved the puffer fishes).

Some of Nemo's impassioned speeches occasionally slowed things down and would have benefited from pruning, but this adaptation by writer Ade Morris has much going for it.

Will Wollen's fertile, inventive creativity as director, combined with The Watermill technicians' ability to produce atmosphere by way of lighting and sound rose to this latest challenge making it an interesting evening.