Writer: Jules Verne
Adaptor/Director: Ian McFarlane
On paper, it just shouldn’t work – the adventure story of Around the World in 80 Days retold as a musical filled with (predictably) 80s classics. But this production is precisely why you should never judge a book by it’s cover and why, especially after the 18 months theatre and the world has just had, you should get travelling to support venues such as The Grand Theatre, Blackpool, once again.
It has the interactive elements of a pantomime, complete with sketches and plenty of breaking the fourth wall, it has the hilarity and farcical nature of The Play That Goes Wrong and it has the randomness, cheesiness and shoehorned songs that also makes jukebox musical Mamma Mia such a surprise success. Eclectic, random, and just good fun, it’s an energetic and laugh-out-loud show that makes you beyond happy to be back in the auditorium and that has something for both adults and children alike.
For anybody unaware of Jules Verne’s original tale of Around the World in 80 Days, it follows the privileged Phileas ‘Phil’ Fog (Alistair Hill) as he is cut off from his family fortune and as he accepts a crazy bet to get travelling the world in 80 days. Along with his sidekick Passepartout (Oliver Mawdsley), he travels from country to country on land and sea, battling and conquering the nasty Professor Gold (the perfect opportunity for a Spandau Ballet number!), surviving a vicious sea and ultimately falling in love unexpectedly with the smart and independent Harlow Hayes (Sophia Lewis).
This cast are all masters of comedic timing, with great rapport and a fantastic ability to respond to their audience. While containing all the stereotypical musical theatre elements – the triple threat of music, dance, and drama – this is first and foremost a comedy and a blooming good one at that. Technically, some numbers are better than others, some of the ensemble are stronger at dancing or singing than others, but in the context of the show, this rarely matters. The production also cleverly keeps all songs short and sweet, rather than performing them in full, meaning that even in the weaker numbers, there’s always a fast pace and never a chance for the audience to lose interest or get bored.
Hill and Mawdsley as the leading duo absolutely steal the show. Their exaggerated and over-the-top characters are a joy to watch and should definitely see them secure more work treading the boards together soon. Ben Watson as the dastardly Professor Gold also deserves a special mention. The villain isn’t an easy role to play or get right, but he does so with real flair and talent, making you both love and hate him at the same time.
You can definitely see the laughter from the rehearsal room has transcended onto the stage and it is well and truly infectious. Little finishing touches, possibly trialed as the daftest of ideas, provide some of the best and funniest moments of the whole show – from the toy boat on a string, to the audience singing sketch to open the second half, to the Superman dancing, to the props and movements in the underwater scene, there is never a dull moment. Kudos to director and adaptor Ian McFarlane for making this happen.
As the nights get darker again and as the cold kicks in, this is the perfect (and affordable) treat to brighten your spirits. You can just tell that this is a cast beyond relieved and energised to get back on that stage, and as such, they’ve made something completely daft and outlandish a real hit. A ‘gold’ production that will no doubt leave you spinning ‘right round, baby, right round’ with joy at the end of the night.
Runs until 5 November 2021