20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Peter Grimes, based on the novel by Jules Verne
Walk the Plank
MV Fitzcarraldo, moored on the River Tyne alongside the Customs House, South Shields

Walk the Plank is unique in the UK, the only theatre company based - and performing - on a seagoing ship. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea begins on the quayside and then the audience are escorted onto the ship and down into what I assume to have been the hold, which is fitted out as a theatre with raked seating for around 140 people, and a stage which is constructed so that many special effects are possible, from the very basic (ropes which the actors can climb) to the complex (video projection).

There the play continues with, at the outset, the stage representing the sea into which three of the characters are thrown after their ship comes into conflict with the Nautilus, and then the Nautilus itself. As the Tyne's tide rose, it gave the whole ship a motion which greatly added to the illusion created by a very effective soundscape by Jules Bushell.

As one might expect in a play based upon a novel, the need to telescope the action into a manageable period of time leads to a number of very short scenes, interspersed with narration from the characters themselves. At times the storytelling becomes very physical, almost dancelike. And, as one might also expect, the play is a little long, although not in terms for time (for it runs around two hours, including the interval), but one can't help feeling that it takes too long to reach the crux, that too much time is spent setting the scene.

That said, the audience, which was made up of family groups with a large number of children, clearly thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is an enjoyable piece. However there were occasional problems with hearing the words: sometimes because the soundscape did dominate a little too much, but on occasions because diction was not always what it should be.

This is the end of this year's tour, which ha staken ship and company from Salford to Northern Ireland, to the Channel Islands and Scotland, to Liverpool and Exeter, and finally to South Shields, where it remains, this time as part of the Takeoff 2003 festival, until 15th October.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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