Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sets sail with theatrical magic

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

“Is that real water?” gasps the little girl behind me. And it does indeed appear that the stage is awash with roiling waves, the actors perched on the bow of a ship. Though there is no attempt to pretend that this is anything but artifi ce, it is theatrical magic. And only one of many collective gasps of sheer delight to come.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea begins with a fantastical fusion of low-tech puppetry and high-tech projections. Our narrator, an engaging Andrew Shaver, sets the stage with a witty and very droll backstory that, with the addition of time travel, morphs into a version of Jules Verne’s classic tale. Visually, steam punk being the main motif, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is extraordinary. The Nautilus’s interior is opulent with portholes that reveal wonders. A visit to Antarctica creates shivers and, when the stage fi lls with glowing jellyfi sh, a meandering shark and a hungry angler fi sh, that word again: magic.

In the midst of such splendour, the story and characters suffer. There is an attempt at an ecological theme to tie everything together though, other than the intro and the extro, it is never otherwise much explored. Themes pile upon themes: science vs literature, father issues, the pursuit of power, theatre vs reality, narrative theatre vs performance art, etc, etc. Finally, after the second act has slowed to a crawl due to so much philosophizing, Shaver (who blessedly does occasionally get to break character and crack jokes) announces it is time to “Bring on the giant squid.

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