Jules Verne's
Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Re-created for Radio
by
Steve Walker

Directed by Eoin O'Callaghan

First broadcast 28th December 1994 - BBC Radio 4
To be re-broadcast 28th November 2004 - BBC7

 

The Cast:
Nathaniel Parker............... Axel Lidenbrock
Nicholas Le Provost........... Professor Lidenbrock
Kristen Milward................. Rosemary McNab
Oliver Senton................... Hans Bilker
Deborah Berlin.................. Grauben
Peter Yapp...................... Count Saknussemm/Academia
Michael Tudor-Barnes........ Headmaster/Giant/Jules Verne
Joshua Towb................... Von Klimstein/Von Stumph/Pepe
Eva Stuart...................... Martha
Steve Walker................... Heinrich


My huge thanks to Steve Walker and especially his wife Sue for giving me so much help and encouragement - this review wouldn't have been possible without it!

Review of Play
This is a very funny and hugely enjoyable 90 minute adaptation of Jules Verne's classic adventure story. German professor Otto Lidenbrock and his "worst ever" student nephew, Axel, set off on a quest to prove the professor's theory that the earth's core is not, as is commonly believed, molten but in fact solid, "with cheesy tunnels"...! Despite the risk of "sprained ankles and unexplainable mood swings" they're joined and financed by Englishwoman Rosemary McNab, and Hans Bilker their Icelandic guide.

To the accompaniment of clanking backpacks and dripping water, they descend into the bowels of the Earth through an extinct volcano near Reykjavik. At first walking, then crawling and climbing through a labyrinth of tunnels, caverns and huge grottos made of granite, coal, quartz and precious stones. Overcoming thirst, hunger, exhaustion and despair they encounter pre-historic creatures, 12-foot high hairy and naked cannibals and fantastical natural phenomenon.

Some exchanges that amused me…

Axel trying to get his uncle's attention..
"Uncle Lidenbrock... Professor... Sir... Uncle Otto… Oi!"
***
And when the professor warns that there is some unknown creature
snuffling among the giant mushrooms, Axel dryly replies,
"It's not a French chef is it..?"

The choice of incidental music and sound effects that enhance the drama throughout ranges from the thrumming sound of a didgeridoo, the chanting of Tibetan monks, Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man…" speech and Nat contributes a great deal of yelling, yelping, screaming - and just a touch of mal de mer..!


Review of Nat's Performance
Having seen Nat in most of his movie and TV roles and listened to all of his spoken word recordings, when I was offered the chance to hear this recording - a totally new medium - I was almost beside myself in anticipation!

In no way did I think I'd be disappointed; that I would be hearing anything other than Nat's usual high standard of performance, with it being 'only a radio play' and radio drama being very much an under-valued, low-profiled and poorly paid medium. I was just fascinated to see how differently, from the wonderful one-man dramatisations of his audiobooks, he would use his skills when interacting with others in a purely audio situation.

His role of Axel is unlike anything else he's done before or since. Entirely with his voice he takes his character from simpering, sniveling 'big girl' to "fat dumkopf" with an unhealthy pre-occupation for cake shops and "lewd thoughts", to panic-stricken and terrified child. This scene, when Nat literally sobs like a little boy in his fear and terror because he's "lost.. in the dark…" miles underground is just heartbreaking. Without props, costumes, scenery or locations it's just incredible how he's able to conjure up such stuff in his head…

For those of us not fortunate enough to have seen him in live theatre, and the seeming unlikeliness of ever having that pleasure, this play is the closest we may ever come and therefore highly valued. It's also an all too rare treat to hear Nat do a comedy role - something we would dearly love to see more of.

The big bonus too is that Nat does the narrating, which ranges from a lovely soft, intimate style, to jolly, slightly tongue-in-cheek and then quiet and serious. In the original script, there were much longer narration sections for Nat, but they were changed to acted-out scenes because the director thought they wouldn't hold the audience's attention… Oh how wrong he was!


To illustrate Axel's obsession with his stomach…

When they finally emerge from the interminable tunnels onto the shore of a vast underground sea,
he exclaims joyfully,

"No more tunnels. Air! Light! Mushrooms!"

***
And in the closing lines of the play, after Axel has been spat out of a volcano in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico and been lost for some time and held the prisoner of bandits, his main comment is,

"…How I hated the food."

 

At the conclusion of the play Axel relates that he eventually becomes a "roly poly bachelor haunting cake shops" and his uncle Otto, unable to convince the scientific community of his story, sells it to a French writer named Jules Verne…!

"Alles klar"

 


 

For further reading on Steve Walker, please click here.

 

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