Around The World in 80 Days – Albany Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Mattie Bagnall

Writer: Jules Verne

Adaptor and Director: Juliet Forster

Join the Albany Theatre for a whirlwind adventure Around the World in 80 Days. No passports are needed though: this journey can be enjoyed from the comfort of Coventry, and it takes a little over 80 minutes rather than 80 days. Jules Verne’s iconic and popular novel has been adapted countless times through every medium, and now it is the turn of Juliet Forster and Tilted Wig to try and inject new life into this classic.

The play starts painfully slowly, to the point where it wouldn’t be a challenge for the audience to be halfway across the world themselves before the play really gets into its stride. Despite slowing down the story considerably, there is some logic to the choices made in this adaptation. Forster encourages the characters to break the fourth wall and offer clarifications about the story, including an attempt to right the wrongs of British history at appropriate moments in the play.

The original story will be familiar to many as Phileas Fogg battles the elements to complete his journey around the world in – you guessed it – 80 days. Forster should be commended for her creative bravery as she integrates a new female leading role into the play by using the true story of Nellie Bly: who attempted to achieve the same feat around the world following the publication of Verne’s book. This adds another layer to the story as there is added competitiveness between the two and a celebration of female empowerment.

While the clarifications are helpful in allowing the audience to understand the thinking behind such decisions, it leaves us desperate for some excitement and pizazz, which only comes after the much-needed interval. The second half saves this production as we are treated to circus acrobatics and a conclusion to the story which has all the expected twists and turns.

There is a heartwarming conclusion as we discover whether Bly has successfully completed her mission. Katriona Brown does a fine job in the new role of Bly, although it does feel like the character is shoe-horned into the original story at times instead of being given her own defined place on stage.

The rest of the cast also bring much-needed energy in the latter parts of the play, with Wilston Benedito (Passepartout) being the standout in keeping the audience onside and drawing out a few laughs.

The set design is impressive and used imaginatively by the small cast throughout. Sadly, this design doesn’t change at all which feels like wasted potential for a story in which new visuals could help keep everyone engaged. There are, nevertheless, some very creative moments including a combination of physical theatre and acrobatics to show storms across the sea and bumpy elephant rides across India.

This production of Around the World in 80 Days can engage and inspire, with some excellent moments of creativity interspersed among slower moments. The changes to the story to reflect modern equality are admirable and it is worth a watch if you have the patience to wait for the thrills and spills to emerge as the play goes on.

Runs until 3 June 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Needs more excitement

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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