Around The World In 80 Days at Cadogan Hall is produced by Kenny Wax Family Entertainment and if there ever was a show that was the epitome of family entertainment, it’s this as there’s something for everyone from 8 (and younger) to 80!
Originally performed at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2013 and then again in 2014, the show is now on a massive seven-month tour and Cadogan Hall is the fourth stop on a long and magical journey. Originally performed in the round, it’s been adapted for other types of theatres. One of my few criticisms is that Cadogan Hall where I’ve seen many concerts and is probably my favourite music venue in London, just isn’t quite right for this kind of show and would be better suited to other theatres on the tour such as The Rose in Kingston and Oxford Playhouse but that’s just a minor quibble.
The show itself is full of magic and inventiveness on a set consisting mainly of suitcases and trunks. It starts with a fussy, stuffy Phileas Fogg repeating each day in the manner of Groundhog Day until a manservant makes Fogg’s morning cup of tea too cold and gets fired, his place being taken by Passepartout. Part of Fogg’s day is playing cards with friends at The Reform Club where the bet that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days is made and the adventure begins.
With a minimal set and a cast of eight, director Theresa Hawkins and designer Lis Evans have had to be inventive and they’ve certainly managed that in spades. There are 125 characters in eight countries, travelling in six trains and on five boats! The change of countries is implied simply i.e. baguettes and berets in France, the wearing of the fez in Suez etc. Travel is indicated by moving some suitcases around and swaying from side to side if on a boat or bouncing up and down if in a train. That may sound a little mundane but it isn’t and the audience believes that’s what they’re watching. The performers are helped by some excellent filmic background music from James Atherton and an exciting and clever sound design from James Earls-Davis.
There are also a number of fights which are either carried out in slow-motion or from a distance – a punch is thrown from one side of the stage and lands on the chin of a character on the other side. These are superbly choreographed and avoid any real violence – this is a family show after all! There is another bit of theatrical magic that occurs throughout the show. If any kind of document or money is passed from one character to another, like the punches, the object is “thrown” across the stage where it is magically caught by the receiving character – you really have to see it to appreciate how clever it is. There are other touches of ingenuity such as making a believable elephant out of a jacket – the whole show is full of inventive touches like this that give it that magical and wondrous quality.
Laura Eason who has adapted Jules Verne’s sprawling 1873 novel has stayed pretty true to the original story and the dialogue is witty and never trite. A number of the cast appeared in the 2013 and 2014 productions so they work as a well-oiled machine which they need to be as this is a very physical and energetic production. Andrew Pollard as perfect as the ramrod straight Fogg and Kirsten Foster is delightful as Mrs Aouda who falls in love with Fogg as they travel across the globe. Dennis Herdman as Inspector Fix makes him the pantomime villain that the kids love to boo and there’s a very funny running gag as he fails to pronounce Passepartout’s name properly. And talking of Passepartout, Michael Hugo gives the stand-out performance of the show. He’s rubber-limbed which he needs to be as he rolls about the floor – on one occasion being dragged along the stage by some young members of the audience. One of the highlights of the show was his interaction with the audience during the interval where he sings and plays the ukulele – this is a real talent.
If I had one other minor criticism, it’s that the first half at nearly eighty minutes is very long and I sensed some restlessness amongst some of the younger members of the audience. The second half is a lot shorter and better for it. And whilst a running time of two and a half hours (including an interval) is value for money, I felt a little pruning of the first half would make an already vibrant and energetic entertainment be even better than it is.
As I said at the top of this review, this is real family entertainment so if it’s coming to a theatre near you – and judging by the schedule it will be – then it’s a wonderful show to take the kids or grandkids for a real theatrical treat.
Review by Alan Fitter
AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS swaggers its way around across the globe, taking in continents, intrigue, love, a hot air balloon and even an elephant – all in the name of a bet. The ever-so-slightly stuffy Phileas Fogg wagers his life’s fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in just eighty days with his wily travelling companion Lieutenant Passepartout. The complicating factor? Racing across the globe, they jump from train to boat to elephant and back again, pausing only to rescue a princess and to battle bandits, buffalo, winter storms and Scotland Yard. Will they make it back to London in time? Or will a world of trouble mean that the bet is lost? And having discovered the whole world, can Fogg find his own heart? An incredible tale of adventure underpinned by a childlike sense of wonder to be enjoyed by all the family. A cast of eight will transport you half way round the world and back again, via one hundred and eight characters, thirty-three scenes and a wonderfully funny feat of imagination.
5 Sloane Terrace, London, SW1X 9DQ
Booking Until: 2nd September 2017