Saturday, September 30

Around the World in 80 Days – Churchill Theatre

This Titled Wig Production, originally developed in collaboration with York Theatre Royal, is a romp from beginning to end. It is colourful, energetic and engaging.  Based on Jules Verne’s famous novel, it creatively combines Verne’s narrative of the imaginary journey of Phileas Fogg with that of Nellie Bly, a real life American journalist who circled the world in 72 days in 1890.

The stage design by Sara Parks had a circus theme, with a colourful red and white tent-like tower structure with several gangway protrusions. The cast ascended and used these in a number of creative ways as the story progressed. Fogg’s journey was illustrated by means of a revolving banner, wound on by the cast. It gave some problems on press night which the cast imaginatively solved.

The five strong ensemble worked extremely well together, maintaining an often frantic pace. The acting was, for the most part, a mixture of slapstick and melodrama. Alex Phelps as Fogg fitted the part superbly: tall, slim and straitlaced, he was dressed in a striking red ringmaster’s costume, maintaining at all times the inscrutable Englishman while still being very athletic. All the cast clearly had circus skills to different degrees, which were brought into play at times in the action. Wilson Benedito, playing Fogg’s’ loyal and long-suffering servant Passepartout, took every opportunity to engage with the audience, including entering the auditorium at times. Unfortunately, his French accent made some of his diction slightly indistinct. Genevieve Sabherwals’ South Asian heritage made her perfectly fitted to play Princess Auoda, and Eddie Mann made an ubiquitous Detective Fix.

Also doubling in other roles, Katriona Brown played Nelllie Bly, delivering her experiences of the journey round the world in the form of narrative. As a counterpoint to the comic characterisation of the Fogg scenes, her appearances were an interesting contrast in style. While fully appreciating the necessary constraints of limiting numbers in a touring production, I felt that the production would have benefited from one or two more actors so that Bly, at least, could be played by an actor dedicated solely to that role. This would have brought out the contrast between the two journeys even more clearly.

This production is clearly intended for entertainment, and not a vehicle for serious dialogue. There were references to the British Empire and to gender discrimination, which I thought could have been brought out even more, to add substance to what is otherwise a very lightweight piece.

There is much to like about this production: the inventiveness of the direction by Juliet Foster, who also adapted it, and the energy of the cast. Their enthusiasm made it a joy to watch for most of the time, although I found that the clowning in the second half became a little tedious.

I think most adults will find this production a little juvenile, but as an introduction to theatre for younger people it is a success.

Playing until 22nd July,

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 19th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.