Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

EdFringeJourneysmA tale most astonishing – and frankly in many ways unbelievable – is told by those who participated, the events described at a meeting of the Royal Geological Society of Edinburgh at the India Buildings on Victoria Street, the speaker being the celebrated Axelle Lidenbrock (Elizabeth Cooke), who in the year 1863 at nineteen years old lived with her uncle Professor Otto Lidenbrock (Joel Bates) in Hamburg.

It was at this time that her uncle came into possession of a twelfth century Icelandic manuscript written by the legendary Snorri Sturluson, though it transpires that the particular copy of the text belonged to the sixteenth century alchemist, naturalist and traveller Arne Saknussemm.

Containing a description of a chain of volcanoes on western Iceland which last erupted in 1219 and are now considered extinct, an encrypted addendum by Saknussemm was translated to reveal his statement that it was possible to descend from the crater of the 5,000 Snæfellsjökull and from there find passage to the centre of the Earth.

Persecuted for heresy and all his works burned in 1573, to find a direct link to the work of Saknussemm inspires Professer Lidenbrock who obliges his reluctant neice to accompany him on a journey to Iceland where they engage a hunter named Hans (Gavin Pattison) as their guide and set out for the peak and their descent into the shadow of the crater.

Adapted by Harry Ward from Jules Verne’s 1864 novel, like the 1959 film version starring James Mason and Pat Boone the narrative adds a female character, a recurring absence in much of the work of Verne, though while Axelle’s lace-cuffed dress is pretty it is not so practical for subterranean exploration as her uncle’s tailored suit or Hans’ rough walking clothes.

On a blank set and miming their actions rather than using props and with over the top performances, particularly from Bates as the shrieking uncle given to tantrums and petulant sulks, it is more pantomime than theatre, and the comedic elements, such as the boarding of the raft as they prepare to cross the underground sea, are overdone and become tiresome.

Though both Otto and Axelle are supposedly intelligent characters in his blind enthusiasm he too often ignores her practicality and caution, and the supporting actors sat offstage blank-faced before leaping to life as though activated automatons adds to the artificiality.

Less ambitioius than the same company’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea it is nonetheless more successful, it too often resemble a vintage television show for undemanding children though the fantastical scene of Axelle’s dream passage through time and history is more successful than the laboured practical attempts at faking realism.

Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages: Journey to the Centre of the Earth continues until August 29th at C Nova on Victoria Street



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