Jules Verne's Around The World In 80 Days

Jules Verne, adapted by Laura Eason

The New Vic Theatre Production In association with Royal Exchange Theatre

Theatre Royal Plymouth

From 12 September 2017 to 16 September 2017

Review by Karen Bussell

Ensemble theatre at its best.

Taking an iconic portrait of the British Empire and adding slapstick and wild animals, American House of Cards writer/producer Laura Eason’s adaption of Frenchman Jules Verne’s 1873 classic is a jolly romp suitable for all the family.

In just 25 days, New Vic director Theresa Heskins and a superbly versatile cast of eight have created an imaginative masterpiece of global proportions with 125 characters, eight countries, six trains, five boats, four fights, a circus, bandits, buffalo and an elephant. And much of the charm is in Beverley Norris Edmunds’s inventive choreography and sleight of hand with even the simple device of a boat at sea tremendous gentle comedy.

Precision knockabout, fabulous fights and circus skills delight while James Atherton’s creative score and sound effects by James Earls-Davis are apposite and amusing.

Andrew Pollard is mathematically precise Phileas Fogg on a mission to circumnavigate the world in just 80 days with a £20,000.00 bet with Reform Club members at stake. Failure means financial ruin.

Armed with a bible of steamer and train timetables, and his redoubtable servant Passepartout (Michael Hugo) Fogg’s journey encompasses far flung climes—India, Hong Kong, America—and huge tracts of ocean with unfinished railways a mere momentary challenge and inciting mutiny par for the course.

Lis Evans has created a simple set made up of trunks, suitcases and umbrellas: versatile and effective becoming a train, boat, temple or opium den with a quick lift or flip of a lid while lengths of knotted cloth transition into buffalo, sail sledge or elephant.

Dennis Herdman is the erstwhile baddie Inspector Fix, on assignment to arrest Fogg on suspicion of robbing the Bank of England, whose underhand methods of thwarting progress involve religious crime, drugs and subterfuge while his variations on the theme of Passepartout’s name is a running gag.

Swept up in Fogg’s unrelentless blinkered march across the Empire is love interest Mrs Aouda (Kirsten Foster) rescued from sati sacrifice to provide the occasional wry comment on the arrogance of Brits abroad while Pushpinder Chani, Simi Egbejumi-David, Matthew Ganley and Joey Parsad pop up in myriad guises often stereotypical, never offensive.

But stealing the show is Hugo as the engaging Ninja-esque Passepartout whose energy and flexibility is breathtaking. Whether serenading an audience member with ad lib song, catching a bullet, ‘walking in the park’, running away with the circus or taking on the might of the Indian temple security squad, his quick-thinking, contortions and acrobatics are a joy.

Tremendous fun.