Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
A Kidoons and WYRD Production
Written by Craig Francis and Rick Miller
Directed by Rick Miller
Richard Clarkin as Captain Nemo
Ned Land as Eric LeBlanc
Marie-Eve Perron as Professor Aronnax
Andrew Shaver as Jules
Run time: Two hours including intermission
March 8-26, 2016
The Grand Theatre
Kidoons and WYRK Productions’ presentation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea is not a faithful re-enactment of the Jules Verne classic tale. What it is, however, is a multimedia and multi-sensory re-imagining of the novel, which includes contemporary elements, that proves to be one of the most visually engaging and creatively dynamic presentations to grace the Grand Theatre stage in ages.
It is designed to be a family-friendly production, complementing an animated production to follow its run first here in London, then in New York. But one hesitates to use the term family-friendly due to the specific connotations that the term carries.
It is not “kiddie” in nature, though it can appeal to kids. And, even at 20,000 leagues under the sea, the themes and language used in the play may fly over the heads of the younger viewers. But the style and visual presentation of the production is innovative, gripping, and supersedes any plot inconsistencies or liberties taken.
The plot, as it is, starts in modern times, with a narrator who decides to immerse himself in the plot of the novel. There are themes of environmental responsibility and examinations of the human impact on our surroundings introduced, and those themes are used to serve as retroactive motivation for Captain Nemo’s descent into madness and violence. There’s an element of time travel, some unexplored pathos, and a resolution that comes together a little too quickly at the end, but little of that matters in the context of this play.
Twenty Thousand Leagues is not a great play in the traditional sense if you’re looking strictly at plot and writing. But it is a great theatrical experience for all involved. The four primary characters are strong, particularly Shaver in the role of Jules (who also serves as the narrator). What the play does extraordinary well is transform the environment in which it’s produced, using lighting, sound, technology, and visual effects to the fullest to create a world into which the viewer is immersed.
Clever use of lighting and screens transform the stage into everything from prison cells to an underwater wonderland filled with pulsating jellyfish. Layering of images, both physical and projected through a laptop and phone, add a depth to the presentation that is captivating to watch. Creative shifts in perspective enable new ways to portray everything from a casual dining experience to top-down views of motion. At one point the soft red glow of an angler fish works its way through the crowd. And this is all complemented by an ambient soundtrack that alternates between underwater sounds, mechanical noises from the submarine, and echo-inflected voices.
The multimedia experience continues during the intermission and even after the play ends. There are on-line elements that serve to drive the story forward and allow the viewer to continue to engage with the production after the fact.
There are some limitations to the family-friendly aspect of this play. As a viewer who is fully bilingual in English and French, some of the language used is certainly not appropriate for a younger audience. Though audiences in New York may not know the francophone equivalent to the F-bomb, there’s a solid chance that some Canadian kids will. The story line and some of the dialogue may not be accessible to youth either.
But as a multimedia and multi-sensory experience, Twenty Thousand Leagues is wonderful. The visuals and action on stage should captivate younger viewers, whilst those of us a little longer in the tooth can appreciate the combination of the production and the acting as an expansion of what theatre traditionally has been on the Grand’s stage.
Yes, there are nods to the exploration of the power of nature and the nature of power. Yes, there are references to the potential impact on the future would come should the past have knowledge of our current state. And, yes there are fledgling examinations of character motivations that aren’t seen to their full extent. But this re-imagining of Verne’s novel is clearly not intended to be a character study, but rather the story is a backdrop to a multi-sensory experience that’s designed to engage and delight.
Again, it’s family friendly without the negative connotations of that term. Young or old should find plenty to enjoy in this production and it’s worth seeing simply for the fact that it’s a clever and compelling re-imagining of what a theatre experience can be.
Jay Menard is a corporate communications writer and freelance Arts & Culture writer. See more of his work at www.jaymenard.com.