AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS – Exeter Northcott Theatre


28 March 2023

2**

Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel has been the basis for many adaptations of one kind or another, including a 20th Century re-enactment for television by Michael Palin; this 2021 version by Juliet Foster, for York Theatre Royal, takes a new approach. Presented here as a co-production with Tilted Wig Productions, the setting is that of a travelling circus where a ringmaster introduces the audience to the company of performers. He explains that they will present their own take on the story, but that they haven’t had much rehearsal – shades of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ et al? We are also told that the real -ife traveller, Nellie Bly, will be telling her story throughout.

Using a number of circus skills and acrobatics, the troupe begin their story of adventure on a wonderfully colourful and inventive ‘circus’ set by Sara Perks; all manner of pieces of appropriate equipment are used throughout to form trains, boats etc. It is clever and well designed.

The audience is kept abreast of the progress of the story by means of a scrolling sign indicating where the central character Phileas Fogg and his manservant Passepartout have reached on their quest – all the result of a wager. With a race against time forming the basis of the story, pacing is so important and this is somewhat stymied by the addition of the Nellie Bly character. Interesting though her story is, every time she pops up, the clock stops and the pace sags. It seems that one of the reasons for her inclusion was to address a gender imbalance in the story as well as celebrate the fact that a real person actually achieved the journey in a shorter time – and that person was female. What might have seemed a good idea by the adaptor actually works against the piece as a whole; Nellie Bly is undeniably interesting and probably deserves a play of her own – inclusion here is an incumbrance.

The cast is lead by Alex Phelps who, as the Ringmaster, takes the role of Fogg – automaton like, with a cheeky wink here and a raised eyebrow there; a performance of huge charm and wit and with a cut-glass accent which allows every word to be heard. I wish the same clarity could be replicated by other cast members; sadly some of the accents rendered inaudible mumbling at times and, despite the use of microphones, the words are often lost. In a small auditorium this just isn’t acceptable. Sir Derek Jacobi recently spoke out about the lack of enunciation from actors and a reliance on mics – this was it in action. Wilson Benedito is a lively and fun-loving Passpartout – but his French accent got in the way of the words. Eddie Mann, a devious Inspector Fix, but his words were lost, in part from a lack of projection. Katriona Brown was clear and interesting as Nellie Bly and Genevieve Sabherwal provided the love interest as Aouda.

Costumes are fun and the lighting is effective throughout. At times the use of underscored music may have helped muffle the voices; the sound balance may need adjusting.

It is difficult to work out who this production is aimed at; the guidance suggests it is suitable for aged 5+ and there is nothing to offend here, but it is too long. The audience seemed to enjoy it and the children laughed at some of the more slapstick elements, but it misses the mark through the writing and the delivery.

This is an inventive production with many positive attributes, but the too-loose adaptation does it no favours and some of the performers let it down by waffling through the script. What could have been fun is something of a disappointment.


CAST & CREATIVES

ALEX PHELPS – RINGMASTER/PHILEAS FOGG

GENEVIEVE SABHERWAL – THE TRICK RIDER/AOUDA

WILSON BENEDITO – THE CLOWN/PASSEPARTOUT

KATRIONA BROWN – THE ACROBAT/NELLIE BLY

EDDIE MANN – THE KNIFE THROWER/DETECTIVE FIX


ADAPTOR & DIRECTOR – JULIET FORSTER

DESIGNER – SARA PERKS

LIGHTING DESIGN – ALEXANDRA STAFFORD

SOUND DESIGN – EDWIN GRAY

MOVEMENT DIRECTOR – ASHA JENNINGS-GRANT

FIGHT DIRECTOR – JONATHAN HOLBY

CIRCUS CONSULTANT – JEN PARRY

VOICE COACH – YVONNE MORLEY

A PRODUCTION BY TILTED WIG PRODUCTIONS & YORK THEATRE ROYAL

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