The (cheap, wooden) stage is set from the word go: smoke fills the air as the players bop around amongst a collection of random props, rocks and soil. It all looks a bit Flash Gordon, but in the best possible way. For those of you out there wanting a po-faced, faithful adaptation of the adventures of Axel and his Uncle Otto you will be disappointed. Verne would never have made them pack Hobnobs and Peperami to have around the campfire. Or make the audience roar to simulate a T-Rex. Plus his trip to Iceland I’m sure lacks the Eurotrash air of joy on display here.
Billed as an “experimental, devised production” from the University of the West of Scotland, players whirl around the stage like a demented, demanding chorus. Some reverence for the source novel wouldn’t go amiss at these points; with so many dismissive comments made, it makes you wonder why they are bothering. The action is frequently interrupted by any and all concerned, characters frozen mid-movement whilst a comment is made or prop thrown on stage. This never gets old, as these interruptions are structured to skilfully break-up the action (the show is seventy minutes through, with no interval). With a healthy dose of swearing it starts to resemble a Glaswegian version of The Young Ones. The character of Hans (the strong, dependable guide) is even cast before our eyes – and it’s an inspired choice, fake beard and all. Largely silent, on the rare occasions he utters a “ya” the house is brought down. It may be anarchic but it’s all perfectly under control.
For reasons not made entirely clear, Professor Otto is ultimately played by four people. Signalled by his migrating grey jacket, hat and magnificent moustache his spirit zaps around like a poltergeist, possessing another member of the cast as they bound on stage. Regenerating like Doctor Who, his third incarnation is perhaps the most accomplished turn. The opposite is true of Axel: played throughout by Matthew Jones, the production is really anchored by his performance as the reluctant young adventurer. With perfect comic timing, some pathos, and even a romance, he is the one constant for the audience. It’s a feat to provide a point of focus in a tsunami of chaos, but he achieves it.
The finale, in which our heroes flee from the T-Rex, doesn’t quite work. With their backs to the audience, running on the spot and trying to say their lines over blaring sound effects, a roaring audience and shouting players, everything becomes a bit incomprehensible. It’s the only element which is slightly sub-par in an engaging, enjoyable and energetic production.