Writer: Laura Eason from the book by Jules Verne
Director: Theresa Heskins
Reviewer: Niki Craft
Around the World in 80 Days, you say?
125 characters, six countries, several trains, a few boats, eight cast members (including a very dozy Frenchman) and no actual elephant… surely impossible?
With The New Vic Theatre’s production on the 11th leg of its tour, hopes are set high for a polished performance of Laura Eason’s adaptation of the famous novel. Greeted by a staircase of luggage and world-maps aplenty as we take our seats, the start of the continuous clock-ticking signifies the supposed urgency of the whole situation commences before the house lights dim.
Enter Mr Phileas Fogg. A very particular man of mathematical accuracy, his character cleverly represented as such by a repetitive scene of him rising and going about his daily duties; each cast member executing their part in proceedings as precisely as Fogg’s character himself. Rather fond of a bet or two, Fogg finds himself carried along on the tide of a disagreement with a whist buddy about exactly how long it should take one to travel the globe, with Fogg being quite certain it would take no more than 80 days. A £20,000 wager later and he and his new French valet, Passepartout, are bound for Waterloo to begin their whistle-stop tour of the world.
What could possibly go wrong?
With a mere eight cast members and so much ground to cover, you can’t help but feel like this production should be quicker and wittier than it is. Elements of superb creativity intertwine with slow-paced action. Fast-paced slapstick intertwines with repeated visual creativity that isn’t so impressive fourth time over. Almost faultless acting intertwines with very middle-of-the-road writing…
It is a performance that overall you can’t really dislike, but at the same time doesn’t pack even a little bit of a punch and ends up being too ‘nice’.
Additionally, rated 8+ plus on the age-range front, it’s difficult to tell what this production’s target audience actually is. Pitched too seriously for your average 8 – 12-year-old to sit through, yet lacking any sort of distinct adult-natured humour or language, it plays very safe and therefore loses a lot of its anticipated potential. Ok, so 1872 is hardly the ideal setting for endless knob-gags but the versatile cast could easily cope with some lightning-speed comedy moments and clever wordplay inclusions to the script which may well provide the edge it needs.
Outlining the various shortcomings stings ten-fold when faced with the task of reviewing the cast who, with a few humorous accent gaffes aside, are worthy of far more than is thrown at them; those with many shoes to fill switch between each character seamlessly while those with a more permanent position successfully make each character their own.
Andrew Pollard quickly gains our support in his quest as he captures Fogg’s precision and gentle-natured disposition with charming ease. Dennis Herdman channels his inner Basil Fawlty-cum-Boycie in occasionally hilarious fashion as Inspector Fix, not-so-secretly pursuing Fogg and Passepartout, and Michael Hugo is a mostly convincing naïve and unworldly, yet ultimately heroic, Frenchman who is the cause of both amusement and adoration throughout. With very few people to play with, it’s clear the eight-strong company have built up a good rapport and successfully bounce off one another to make their characters and scenes believable, however lacking the material they are having to portray is.
A disappointingly ordinary production that appears to lose all of its potential by not picking a clear direction to travel in. The coasting, unfortunately, outweighs the clever and the clever gets wheeled out too often to remain so.
Far from awful, but certainly not going to change the world – however many days it has left to do so.
Runs until 26 October 2017 | Image: Contributed