Writers: Jules Verne (novel) Laura Eason (adaptation)
Director: Theresa Heskins
Reviewer: Helen Tope
The premise is simple: wealthy gentleman Phileas Fogg takes on a wager that will see him attempt to traverse the globe in 80 days. Leaving Victorian London with his loyal valet, Passepartout, they begin an extraordinary journey.
It is a story so well known, but much of what we know of Jules Verne’s classic novel is a composite of images taken from screen adaptations – this stage production, directed by Theresa Heskins, attempts to set the record straight.
First off – there is no balloon. Fogg’s travels, by rail and steamer, may be less fanciful, but the race against the clock is still down to the wire. This production takes the nuts and bolts of Verne’s narrative and retells it with a twist. Eschewing the cinematic flair of Verne’s novel, this production works in close-up. No large sets, just a small cast and a handful of props.
Stepping away from the cliches, the cast is then free to tell the story in their own way. This production of Around the World in 80 Days finds the absurdity and humour in Verne’s novel and runs with it. The performances from Andrew Pollard as Phileas Fogg and Michael Hugo as Passepartout are excellent; but while the play benefits from strong leads, this is an ensemble production in every sense. The cast milk every laugh from Laura Eason’s adaptation, as the pace builds to a frenzy.
Around the World in 80 Days, for all its slapstick, has a solid core of technique which anchors the play throughout: we see acrobat moves timed to the second, a cast working in perfect synchronicity. But the beauty of this play is that it never feels over-rehearsed; every tumble, every laugh retains its energy because it flows so organically.
The energy from this production thrives on giving us the unexpected: the staging of this production is ingenious. Props, the cast, and the audience’s imagination are used to fill the stage. The shortcuts are particularly inventive – never has a five-pound note been issued with such panache.
Every surprise is delivered with such warmth and wit that you cannot help but be charmed by Phileas Fogg’s world. An Englishman trying to outrun his pocket watch may not seem like it has anything to say to us, but this play celebrates the British value system – eccentricity, loyalty, and humour – still embedded in our collective DNA.
It is a story about home, finding and making a family, even if it defies normal convention. As told in this stripped-back production, Jules Verne’s novel reveals itself to be a fresh take on identity – national, personal – and the conclusions it reaches are startlingly modern. In the final scenes, Fogg is not just an Englishman, he has become a citizen of the world.
It is Verne’s message, as resonant as it was in 1872. Go, see, travel – identity is not built by borders, but crafted by experience.
Runs until Saturday 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed