Music: AnneMarie Lewis Thomas
Script and Lyrics: Phil Willmott
Director: Brendan Matthew
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
There has clearly been a huge amount of work put into this production – a 17 strong cast, musicians, original writing and more. The ambition to have a large scale, vibrant and punchy musical is evident. However, the show passes a lot of that work on to the audience through indulgent dance scenes, difficult characters, laboured accents and some flat jokes and the result is an argument for making ambition play second string to the reality of a production.
The story follows Jules Verne’s classic story of Phileas Fogg’s (Sam Peggs) wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days with only a vast amount of money, his wits (and timetables) and his valet Passepartout (Connor Hughes) to help him. Beset at every turn, however, the trip turns from gentlemanly progress to a bit of a caper with a “will they, won’t they” ending for multiple story strands.
Willmott has taken the story as a guide, not following the journey exactly, and his introductions are lovely, engaging additions (detective Fix is now, for example, Captain Fix who has wagered against the pair and so is out to sabotage the trip). The written characters seem fun and lively, and new moments like Fogg and the Indian Princess Aouda falling in love in Hong Kong are sweet.
Bizarre inclusions such as some uncomfortable representations of the nations they visit and other characters that feel like private in-jokes, the shrieking cartoonishness of Captain Fix (a cross between Dick Dastardly and Ace Ventura) interrupt the flow irreparably. And flaws in the production itself like the overpacked stage (talented dancers with no real room to move) and trailing storylines that go nowhere (Passepartout’s budding/jealous relationship with his elephant) mean any momentum whipped up by some of the cracking songs and music is dissipated.
There’s some real bright lights in the young cast. As Katy O’Flatherty (Passepartout’s potential fiancé) Aoibhín O’Neill has made a great London professional debut. The ensemble singing and dance performances are tight as well (despite the close stage and huge numbers of them).
A lot of potential here, sadly it doesn’t quite live up to the promise from the raw material of the story, or even the better parts of Wilmott’s script. Phileas Fogg is a character famous for resisting any temptation and living a refined life. Perhaps the producers here should have taken a lesson from him and been guided by the principle of “less is more.”
Runs until 1 September 2018 | Image: Mark Senior