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Around The World In Eighty Days

Jules Verne, adapted by Brute Farce
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
(2011)

When French manservant Passpartout gains employment with Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg of Savile Row London, he looks forward to an orderly and predictable life. Little does he know that on that very evening, Fogg will take a bet which will have Passpartout accompany his new master in a race against the clock that sees them travel around the world, getting in and out of all sorts of scrapes.

As they adventure across the continents to win the £20,000 wager, Fogg is pursued by Inspector Fix of the Yard who has taken him for the perpetrator of a recent bank robbery; in an attempt to keep tabs on his man, Fix poses as a salesman and joins the entourage which is further extended by Princess Aouda, a beautiful widow who Fogg rescues from certain death in one of many escapades.

In this adaptation by Brute Farce, the story is largely faithful to the novel which was initially written to be serialised and the writing here makes a virtue of the episodic nature of Verne's work. It is also rather witty and the humanising of the pedantic and emotionally stunted Fogg is a tender thread weaving through and linking the otherwise standalone exploits.

The challenge of a multi–escapade story is to realise a dramatic highpoint for the whole piece, and although the race over a collapsing bridge has all the characteristics of one, on the first preview the build up of tension was lost in the haste. Conversely, the tracking of place and time was consistently clear and the changes of pace well balanced with the races contrasting against the calm paddle steamer and lolloping inventively staged elephant ride.

There is a terrific set by David Shields which is full and busy but effective and evokes the period; it also hints at the Steampunk aesthetic used widely in his design of the headgear worn by various characters. Adopting this fusion of technology and couture in the design not only reflects the changing industrial times but sets off the quirky and imaginative approach to the direction from Kate Bannister.

With every leg of the journey having its own perilous incident, there is much opportunity for the cool–headed Fogg to be heroic and commanding, but the gentleman who believes "there is nothing to be gained by becoming emotional" is of his age. In 1872, his approach would have been considered admirable, but it seems there is no thing that cannot be bought and no native that cannot be financially induced or simply coerced; Fogg is the hubris of the British Empire in human form. But enough of that; more would be to overanalyse what is essentially a rollicking seasonal adventure.

Around The World In Eighty Days runs until 7 January 2012

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti