Around the World in 72 Days: The Story of Nellie Bly, created and performed by Rebekah McLoughlin, is a one woman show about Nellie Bly’s infamous 72 day journey around the world, while she inadvertently “raced” with Cosmopolitan reporter, Elizabeth Bisland.
The play opens with a voiceover reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days while McLoughlin holds the book. She can hear the voiceover reading, and obviously disturbed, begins to tell the story, and Bly’s own tale, herself. Voiceovers play a key role throughout the piece, sometimes used to portray invisible characters, including Mr Bailey (Jack Bolton), with most of the voices being performed by McLoughlin herself. Mr Bailey forbids her to go on her around the world trip, because she is a woman with few language skills and, as a female, will take too much luggage. He is soon apologising however, and Nellie sets out towards Europe, determined to beat the 80 day journey written about by Verne.
The play is highly narrative in style, McLoughlin telling the audience most of the story with minimum props, so at times these interactions with invisible characters can sap the pace of the piece and it would be stronger if McLoughlin represented the personalities of the various people Bly meets on her journey, altering her voice to bring them to life on stage, rather than interacting with a disembodied voiceover.
McLoughlin’s American accent is strong overall, but did drop on some occasions, which appeared to stem from the inevitable nerves caused by performing a solo show. Performing the other characters live rather than interacting with voiceovers would likely iron some of this out as the pace and flow of the piece could be maintained.
McLoughlin’s body language and expression is very good, bringing life and busyness to a stage with only one person on it. It would be nice to feature more description of the countries and cultures she encounters to enhance the changing landscape around Bly. The reality of a woman travelling alone at the time is terrifyingly brought to life with a run in with an enthusiastic but frightening admirer which McLoughlin performs very well creating a real sense of dread and unease.
McLoughlin adds other details of Nellie Bly’s life, including her period as a foreign correspondent in Mexico which abruptly ended when she criticised the dictator president, Porfirio Diaz. Her infamous expose of the asylum on Blackwell’s Island is only hinted at, and if this piece was developed further it would be interesting to see further details of this explored.
The encounter with Jules Verne is a high point of the piece, particularly McLoughlin’s loving interaction with an antique globe plotting Fogg’s own journey around the world in Verne’s study. This meeting also shows how closely the public followed Bly’s journey and its effect on her popularity, illustrating that today’s interactions with influencers may have been changed by technology but the fascination with other people’s lives and adventures is nothing new.
Around the World in 72 Days: The Story of Nellie Bly is an entertaining and educational piece of theatre which has a lot of potential for further development. Relevant in today’s world of social media and constantly updated newsfeeds, the story of Bly as a pioneer of journalism and the role of women in the profession, could be further explored in view of her effect on today’s writers. Well performed by McLoughlin, who has a clear admiration for her protagonist and is obviously very passionate about this as a piece of dramatic work, this is a play which will teach you something new about the world then, the world now, and how the assumptions and opinions of society can transform someone’s life and career.
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 7th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★