Around The World In 80 Days

Wilson Benedito, Katriona Brown, Alex Phelps, Eddie Mann and Genevieve Sabherwal. Photo credit_ Anthony Robling
Around The World In 80 Days
Photo credit: Anthony Robling

“An Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager.” Buttoned-up Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg may take his wagers seriously, but that’s far from the tone taken by Juliet Forster’s adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel, Around The World In 80 Days, as a ringmaster and his troupe are determined to bring the story to life in the most entertaining way possible. Currently in the middle of a hefty UK tour, the Tilted Wig Productions circus has set up shop at Richmond Theatre for a week.

Once the gang finally agree upon their roles (despite the Acrobat pursuing a slightly different story), we’re whisked away to Victorian London and meet the most predictable and seemingly unadventurous man of the age: Phileas Fogg. His penchant for routine, however, is thrown out of the window when he calculates that it would be entirely possible to make a trip around the world within 80 days – and promptly sets off to prove it! So promptly, in fact, he and his valet (Passepartout) have no time to pack, and end up having to acquire a change of clothes and other essentials along the way; this behaviour marks them out as suspicious to Detective Fix, who decides to pursue the pair with the aim of apprehending them. In their haste to win the wager, there is no time for sightseeing (much to Passepartout’s dismay), though there is time for them to rescue the Indian princess Aouda from being burned alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre… Will they make it back in time? And could they have completed the journey in a shorter time?

The answer to the second question is a resounding ‘YES’, as this production not only brings Verne’s novel to life, but it also recounts the tale of American journalist Nellie Bly. In 1890, the intrepid young woman set off in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and recorded her adventure for posterity; this narrative is a welcome addition, as it means the troupe can keep their promise of bringing the world to the audience. Fogg & Passepartout don’t have time to explore their surroundings, but even travelling at speed Nellie is able to describe her impressions of each country in which she finds herself – and we get a feel for what it was like all those centuries ago. It also means that the show isn’t male-centric, and gives a female character some proper agency (the Trick Rider rightly bemoans the one-dimensional nature of Aouda).

Though it is a little slow to get going, the show really finds its feet once it gets into full caper mode halfway through the first act, and then remarkably keeps up that energy after the interval. The circus setting definitely helps with this, and also allows for more creativity in the depiction of certain sequences – one that really stands out is Passepartout & Fix’s drunken evening, as it incorporates a seesaw to simulate the effect of alcohol on the senses (Wilson Benedito’s drunk acting is also excellent in this scene). As well as the previously mentioned benefits of including Nellie Bly (and the downside of Aouda’s character), the production also manages to point out other aspects of the story that haven’t aged well (or have become downright problematic), but without it getting in the way of the narrative or appearing patronising – ideal for any children or delegates of the National Conservatism conference who might have been in the audience.

Sara Perks’ set design is absolutely incredible: a classic red-striped Big Top idea, with lights, ladders & myriad entrances/exits – including a trapdoor, which is used at pleasingly regular intervals. The whole thing is especially impressive when you consider the touring aspect, meaning it has to be deconstructed and reconstructed every week as they move between venues. Perks’ costume design is also wonderful, as it embraces the circus theme wholeheartedly – as well as proving itself to be adaptable to quick changes in character for the multi-roling aspect of the show.

The cast of five bring the story to life with aplomb – and apparently limitless energy. They all demonstrate an aptitude for slapstick and clowning, proving to be more than capable of meeting the demands of a very physical show. Particularly impressive are Alex Phelps and Katriona Brown as the Ringmaster and the Acrobat, who then become the central figures in the two concurrent globetrotting adventures; for the most part they are competing to be centre of attention, but eventually they manage to find a way of telling both stories without impacting on either’s roles – it’s a nice touch to have the naturally pompous Ringmaster learn from his troupe (& Nellie Bly’s tales) and step aside to let the Acrobat conclude her story in her own way.

Genevieve Sabherwal, Eddie Mann and Katriona Brown. Photo credit_ Anthony Robling
Around The World In 80 Days
Photo credit: Anthony Robling

My verdict? An entertaining show for adventurers of all ages, with important messages as well as good old-fashioned clowning around.

Rating: 4*

Around The World In 80 Days runs at Richmond Theatre until 20 May 2023. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.

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