Writer: Jules Verne
Adapter and Director: Juliet Forster
With enough imagination and creativity, anything is possible on a stage. That being said, it is to Tilted Wig Productions’ credit that they have tackled such a challenging multi-location tale as Around the World in 80 Days and successfully captured the essence of Jules Verne’s story of the globetrotting Phileas Fogg.
Verne’s 1973 novel follows the intrepid Fogg as he attempts what (at the time) seemed an impossible feat: circumnavigating the globe in eleven and a half weeks. Accompanied by this manservant Passepartout and pursued by a dogged detective who wrongly believes Fogg is a wanted bank robber, Around the World in 80 Days is chock-full of exotic adventure, even in today’s connected world of high-speed travel.
Director Juliet Forster (who has also adapted the piece from the original book) starts off the show with a framing device: using a troupe of circus performers recreating the story as a way to allow a less literal adaptation, where environments, props and costumes can be creatively conjured up. This also effectively allows for more comedy and (perhaps more importantly) permits the cast to step out of character to comment on aspects of the narrative that perhaps don’t sit so well by today’s standards. Considering that the book was written 150 years ago, some parts of it could be seen now as culturally insensitive, but Forster doesn’t just sweep these parts under the carpet, and one of the great strengths of her adaptation is that these aspects are pragmatically addressed. These asides, along with digressions to informally chat about facts and figures of the places that are visited and historical trivia (as an example the size and the cost of building the Suez Canal) make this a fascinating annotated version of the story. This is particularly good for a younger audience, and this adaptation does generally skew young, with the performances, direction and script all generally catering for a pre-teen audience – illustrated by the delighted children’s giggles whenever some slapstick business occurs. There is much to enjoy here for all ages, but those looking for a straight version of the Verne novel should look elsewhere.
The cast of only five all work hard, playing one main character each as well as taking multiple supporting roles. Starting as the circus’ ring leader, Alex Phelps takes on the role of Phileas Fogg, his mannerisms and physicality perfectly capturing the stoic Fogg’s personality while also allowing the character to sit comfortably within a broader comic setting. His performance is reminiscent of John Cleese in his prime: an awkward Englishman barely supressing hysteria and prone to wild physical contortions. Wilson Benedito takes on the role of Passepartout, also showing great physicality even if his thick French accent makes many of his lines indecipherable. Eddie Mann plays Detective Fix and carries most of the broader comedy elements of the show. His performance is excellent. Also delivering strong performances are Genevieve Sabherwal as Aouda, the princess that Fogg rescues while in India and his ultimate love interest, and Katriona Brown playing Nellie Bly, a real-life American reporter who only a few years after the publication of the book, attempted Fogg’s journey for real. The addition of Bly’s parallel narrative makes for an interesting twist on the story, as well as giving this show a much-needed strong female character, but ultimately it does make an already sprawling story feel a little overstuffed.
Like its circus framing device, this production of Around the World in 80 Days is a fun time for all the family, but mainly for children, and offers an excellent introduction to the story for those unfamiliar with it, as well as hiding history, geography and sociology lessons within its colourful frivolity.
Runs until 25th March 2023.