Around the World in 80 Days
Adapted by Laura Eason from the novel by Jules Verne
Royal Exchange Theatre and New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
The New Vic's hit production of this Jules Verne classic tale from last spring has been revived for the next theatre-in-the-round along, spending summer at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre.
The production sets its style early on, with a choreographed representation set to music of Fogg's day, from getting up in the morning and getting his button hole from the flower seller through a game of whist at the Reform Club and finally to bed, all scheduled to the minute.
Frenchman Jean Passepartout is taken on as Fogg's manservant after his predecessor failed to serve his master's tea at the precisely accurate temperature. On the same day, Fogg is challenged on his assertion that the globe could be circumnavigated in 80 days by his fellow Reform Club members, a bet is made and Fogg asks Passepartout to prepare to leave that same evening.
However, incompetent Scotland Yard detective Inspector Fix has jumped to the conclusion that Fogg's journey is a pretext to escape the country and that the traveller is actually the perpetrator of a large bank robbery, so prepares to chase him around the globe.
While the novel itself isn't as exciting as most of its adaptations, it sets out certain elements that can make for a very entertaining theatrical ride. There is the adventure of visiting different countries and rushing to make the next connection. Then there is the character of the logical, mathematical Fogg who has no interest in sightseeing until the girl they rescue in India makes him soften and see the world differently. Finally there is the farcical chase that Fix adds to the mix.
All of this is realised brilliantly in Theresa Heskins's lively, joyful and exhaustingly physical production. There are so many physical comedy elements, enough to fill ten pantomimes but carried out with more skill than in most Christmas shows I have seen.
They even have the confidence to play around with the conventions they have set up: Fix and Passepartout get a couple of audience members to continue rocking furniture to represent the movement of the ship when they have to leave. There is also a much-used trick of pretending to throw money and the other person pretending to catch it, unti Fix tries it and he can't do it.
Then there are the fights where the combatants stand the full width of the stage apart but react as though they are really hitting one another. Much of the comedy is accompanied by very accurately placed spot sound effects from sound designer James Earls-Davis, and you can see why he needed two associate sound designers in Alex Day and David Norton.
It's one of those productions where the script, direction, music (composer James Atherton), sound, movement (Beverley Edmunds), design (Lis Evans) and the performances just come together perfectly and create something glorious.
Looking at the programme, the cast list looks surprisingly small for all the characters I remember seeing on stage. Andrew Pollard is perfect as the calm, calculating Victorian gentleman, supported by a hilarious and very physical performance by Michael Hugo as Passepartout channeling Norman Wisdom, perhaps via Lee Evans. Dennis Herdman plays the thick London copper to a T, and Rebecca Grant is the beautiful Kamana Aouda who catches Fogg's eye and imagination.
The rest of the cast each play dozens of characters: Pushpinder Chani, Okorie Chukwu (who provides some incredible acrobatics), Susan Hingley and Matthew Rixon.
The Royal Exchange hasn't always been successful with its attempts at a comic romp, but this import from Staffordshire hits the right note with this joyous and hugely entertaining production, which is genuinely suitable for all the family.
Reviewer: David Chadderton