AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS – St James Theatre, London.
Based on the novel by Jules Verne, Lucy Eason’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days explores the bounds of theatricality and human nature in a way that retains the essence of Verne’s own creation, but also introduces a level of humour that is utterly delightful.
Director Lucy Bailey has really brought out the fun, wit and humour written into the narrative, which coupled with the magnificent design by Anna Fleischle, makes Around the World in 80 Days a stunning visual feast. The set is constructed from a raised wooden platform, full of traps, lengths of rope, wheels and a rolling backdrop that combined conjures the idea of vehicle in itself, as well as each different country and landscape visited. Through subtle changes, ingenious uses of props and marvellous magic tricks, the cast of eight work seamlessly together as if physically driving the set across the globe. Fleischle’s design also plays with the juxtaposition between the ‘downstairs’ mechanics of running a household, or mode of transport through an exposed under section of the set full of machinery, to the seemingly serene life of protagonist Phileas Fogg that takes place ‘upstairs’ or aboard trains, steamers and the other curious methods of transportation he happens upon throughout his eighty day journey.
Played by Robert Portal, Fogg is portrayed as a precise and logical man of a cool, calm and collected manner who happens to have a canny knack of finding favour, whether in a game of whist or during a journey traversing the globe that is fraught with peril. Also charming and endearing throughout, Portal’s Fogg drives the narrative, collecting other curious characters along the way. Passepartout, Fogg’s valet is played by Simon Gregor with exceptional comic timing and an ability to maximise a phrase to it’s full potential – Gregor is a phenomenal performer and his Passepartout is a perfect balance to the fastidious Fogg. Tony Gardner excels as the conniving Inspector Fix, creating some moments of utter hilarity, especially when paired with Tim Steed, who gives a stellar performance consistently throughout the variety of characters he portrays; highlights include his Suez Canal passport controller and as the Captain of a small vessel bound for Bordeaux. Shanaya Rafaat as Mrs Aouda brings a beautiful warmth to the production and provides the expedition with some of the more daring escapades. Eben Figueiredo, Lena Kaur and Liz Sutherland also multi-role with great skill, creating jewels of characters including Mr Naidu, Miss Singh and Judge Obadiah respectively.
The sound of Around the World in 80 Days is amazing as it has been composed by the extremely talented musician and composer Django Bates. Peppered with fantastic sound effects, both performed live on stage and recorded, Mic Pool’s sound design and Bate’s soundtrack come together to enhance the atmosphere established by the set and cast to great effect.
Around the World in 80 Days is a complete theatrical triumph, full of ingenious moments that fill the audience with pure delight. It is yet another production that really sets St James Theatre apart as one of the best producing houses in London; it is an absolute must see this winter.
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By Emily Jones
27th November 2015 – 17th January 2016
St James Theatre, London SW1E 5JA