Jules Verne adapted by Laura Eason
Kenny Wax Family Entertainment, Simon Friend, The New Vic Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre
The Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
05 December 2017 to 07 January 2018
To be honest the motive in attending the touring production of Laura Eason’s adaptation of Around The World in 80 Days is simple curiosity. To find out how well a show designed for theatre in the round translates into conventional end-on staging. But within a short time any attempt to maintain a cool appraising approach melts under the warmth and charm of the show.
The concept for Around The World in 80 Days is gloriously crackpot. Phileas Fogg (Andrew Pollard), a narrow-minded Victorian gentlemen with no interest in anything other than his nightly game of cards, impulsively wagers that he can travel the globe in 80 days and sets off to do so accompanied his valet Passepartout (Michael Hugo). The fact that the Frenchman is handy in a fight is a hint that this is something of a fantasy.
Andrew Pollard and Michael Hugo are a classic straight man/funny man double act. Pollard remains with his spine stiff and face immobile throughout while Hugo bounces hysterically around the stage like he is made of rubber and his voice is just short of a shriek. In a shameless performance Hugo steals the show, wooing the audience and dragging patrons onto the stage to help manipulate props or manoeuvre his prone body around.
The initial impression of the show, after seeing it at The Royal Exchange, is one of distance – much seems to be happening at the rear of the stage. But this soon passes and the full expanse of The Quays Theatre is exploited to great comic effect. There are relatively few changes noticeable in the stage layout – the map of the British Empire that was on the floor when staged in the round is now on the wall and while some intimacy may have been lost, director Theresa Heskins ensures that the madcap energy is retained. Heskins glories in showing what can be achieved on stage with very limited props and an audience that delights in using imagination. A grey tablecloth becomes the ears and trunk of an elephant and twisted cloths are used as buffalo horns.
The setting may be Victorian but the staging is fast-moving and contemporary, with exaggerated fight scenes carried out in slow-motion to the cinematic sound effects designed by James Earls-Davis. The cast do not hesitate to mock themselves as their mimed swaying, to suggest the movement of a ship, becomes so exaggerated it evolves into a dance routine.
Although recent events may have made the idea of an insular Englishman much less funny than when the play was first staged, Heskins wisely avoids political point-scoring and keeps the show warmly funny. She retains the high level of audience interaction with the cast jumping off the stage and Hugo cheerfully teasing some poor soul who admits to working for BT.
After a lengthy tour Around The World in 80 Days has returned to the region where it originated some years ago with a different staging and is just as charming and funny. It is a pleasure to welcome it back.
Reviewer: David Cunningham