Writer: Jules Verne
Director: Juliet Forster
Jules Verne’s popular novel Around The World in 80 Days has been adapted many times since its original release in 1873, on stage, film and screen. This time, it is production company Tilted Wig who are taking the audience on a whirlwind trip around the globe, alongside intrepid real-life adventurer Nellie Bly, adding a twist to the classic tale.
The show begins with a group of circus performers eager to tell the story of Phileas Fogg and his antics around the world. Each deciding on their roles and adamant that there should also be a female lead, they agree that the true story of Nellie Bly should also be told (a female American reporter who attempted the trip based on the book and completed the whole thing in 72 days) which is woven into the narrative as a comparison to the fictional Fogg. They embark on their concurrent journeys, with each cast member playing a variety of roles, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to call out sleeping audience members or to provide historical context to some of the scenes.
The historical tidbits that are sprinkled throughout the show are not only interesting and informative, but also provide necessary commentary on some of the less culturally sensitive aspects of Verne’s writing, such as depictions of Native Americans or scenes during their time in India. These explanations don’t excuse the writing from 150 years ago or brush it under the carpet by erasing it completely, but instead tackle it head-on with an explanation and an appreciation that it doesn’t have a place in a modern world. This is a commendable effort from director Juliet Forster who has adapted Verne’s text.
The expectation with a story filled with so much imagination and wonder such as Around The World In 80 Days is that the mystique and excitement would shine through on the stage, but it is unfortunately severely lacking in creativity and adventure. The majority of the show is narrated and explained rather than shown, with very minimal visual changes, which would work fine for some shows, but doesn’t do justice to this storyline. The backdrop remains a circus throughout, with a revolving sign simply changed to highlight the current country Fogg (Alex Phelps) and Bly (Katriona Brown) are in. While the scarce visuals match the overarching story of the budget travelling circus re-telling a tale, there are still ways they could use creative artistry to sprinkle the show with more pizazz. This is partially included in scenes such as the brilliant innovation to create an elephant on stage, or the lighting techniques during a sea storm, but isn’t explored enough to really elevate this show to the next level.
The slapstick-style performances from the small cast work well, with the likeable Wilston Benedito (Passepartout) and Genevieve Sabherwal (Auoda) at the helm of the few circus skills on stage. Phelps and Brown do fantastic jobs of bringing their characters to life and progressing the narrative along, while Eddie Mann (Detective Fix) is an energetic, comedic performer who easily entertains. Playing additional smaller side characters also, all five actors transition into each role without missing a beat.
This is part pantomime, part circus which seems to be mainly geared toward a very young audience. While you may not feel like you’ve travelled the globe with Tilted Wig, you’ll definitely leave the theatre having learnt something new about one of the amazing destinations they explore.
Runs until 20 May 2023 and continues to tour