Tuesday, April 23

Around the World in 80 Days – Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Around the World in 80 Days is a brand-new musical adaptation of the classic novel by Jules Verne, written by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse, and directed by Kash Arshad.

What a spectacular show, this trio have created! Rarely have I seen a show that is both technically brilliant and so superbly acted, with costumes and set design that are second to none.

While the medium of theatre can be a cornucopia of new and innovative ideas, it does have its limitations in terms of how this is presented to the audience. That said, this adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days was absolutely seamless in its visual storytelling, moving from place to place with graceful fluidity and depicting the characters’ journey by land, sea and sky with staggering ingenuity.

The two standout scenes for me were the hot air balloon ride – which came to life through four rope swings descending from the stage – and the elephant ride, made into reality through innovative use of scarves and very clever staging. I cannot fault anything visually about this piece – the staging was simple yet perfectly fit for purpose, encapsulating the Octagon’s in-the-round stage to tremendous success.

Next up, the cast. This is perhaps the first performance I’ve seen where every single cast member really does add something unique to the piece. With a cast of only 7, I would be doing an injustice to this superb troupe if I didn’t give each their own mention. Many of the cast played multiple characters, apart from the lead characters of Lady Phileas Fogg (ingeniously subverted from a male character to a female character) and Passepartout, brought to life by Polly Lister and Kai Spellman respectively. Both were sensational in their respective parts but had great chemistry in their “upper class mistress and exasperated but dedicated butler” dynamic.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

The rest of the swing cast were equally sublime – Emma Fenney, Charlotte Linighan and Olivia Chandler brought real gusto and comedic value to their roles, Darren Kuppan brought depth to his roles, while Robert Jackson really did command the stage in his various parts. All in all, the cast were superb, all working together in perfect synergy. A huge hats off to Casting Director Olivia Barr, who got this one absolutely spot on.

Likewise, the Music Director Sam Sommerfeld was a real tour de force behind this performance – unlike many musicals where the musical numbers feel like a non-sequitur to the rest of the piece, the musical numbers in this performance were not only perfectly aligned with the storyline but were a real asset to the overall storytelling. This is the sign of excellent writing, so kudos to Susannah Pearse for her music and lyrics, juxtaposed perfectly with Kate Ferguson’s fantastic script.

In the Director’s Notes in the programme, Director Kash Arshad said: “I always feel like festive shows have a duty to be memorable and inspiring…I want the audience to feel all the exhilaration, the excitement, the laughter and the exhaustion that Lady Phileas, Passpartout and the rest of the 30 odd characters we meet, feel.” 

With this, Arshad got his wish – This performance couldn’t have been any more exhilarating or exciting; the audience really did feel like they had been on a journey with the characters, without even leaving their seats. This goes to show that a true adventure isn’t always about the destination: it’s about the journey you take to get there.

Around the World in 80 Days is playing at Bolton Octagon from Thursday 16th November 2023 to Saturday 6th January 2024 – don’t miss it! https://octagonbolton.co.uk/

Reviewer: Hannah Wilde

Reviewed: 21st November 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.