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Around the World in 80 Days at Richmond Theatre

Around the World in Eighty Days, one of Jules Verne’s best-known “voyages extraordinaires”, was first published in 1873. At Richmond Theatre 150 years later, Juliet Forster’s ingenious “circus” adaptation captures almost everything that happens to Verne’s hero, Phileas Fogg, played in this touring production by an absolutely terrific Alex Phelps. Phelps is a superb actor and a fine physical comedian, bringing to life Verne’s stereotypically buttoned-up English “toff”. As well as faithfully re-telling Verne’s novel, Forster also manages to throw a light on Elizabeth Cochran, an American journalist who wrote mainly under the nom de plume of ‘Nelly Bly’. In November 1889, “Bly” sought to challenge Fogg’s fictional “record”. The attempt attracted huge interest – and an imitator in the form of Elizabeth Bisland, a woman of mixed heritage who set off in the opposite direction. Bly won, completing the trip in 72 days, six hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds.

Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal. Photo credit Anthony Robling.
Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal. Photo credit Anthony Robling.

Played by Katriona Brown, Nelly Bly is an engaging character who provides an episodic commentary on the reality of nineteenth-century travel. At one point there is the subtle suggestion that Bly may have discovered more than other countries in her circumnavigation, echoing those contemporary male commentators who suggested that any woman who accomplished what Bly had done must be what they described as “a man-hater”. This can be set against the fact that just four years later, and after only “a fortnight’s courtship”, Bly married a millionaire who was 40 years her senior and almost immediately after their marriage suspected his wife of infidelity and had her followed by a private detective! By a curious coincidence, in Jules Verne’s novel Phileas Fogg is also followed by a detective. Verne’s policeman, Inspector Fixx, is played here as in the original production by the fantastic Eddie Mann. As Fogg’s assistant, Jean Passepartout, Wilson Benedito’s clowning and asides to the younger members of the audience keep them laughing and in touch with the plot. Completing the cast is Genevieve Sabherwal who plays Princess Aouda, a young widow rescued by Fogg from the horrifically brutal practice of sati, which was not criminalised in India until 1987 and is far from being the colonial myth one might have expected.

In Juliet Forster’s unmissable show, first seen in 2021, brilliant storytelling is interspersed with hilarious scenes that would not be out of place in pantomime – Bollywood dancing, a perilous sea storm, red and white fire juggling and, possibly the best of many standout moments in the show, a routine on a see saw executed smoothly by Benedito and Mann and ending with a delightful twist.

Highly recommended.

5 Star Rating

Review by Louis Mazzini

Based on the novel by Jules Verne and adapted and directed by Juliet Forster, this brand-new, fun and colourful comedy drama tells the story of Around The World In Eighty Days as you’ve never seen it before.

A band of travelling performers embark on their most daring feat yet: to recreate the adventures of Phileas Fogg as he sets off on his race around the world.

But this is a telling of two tales; fact meets fiction as we learn the incredible true story of American journalist Nellie Bly who emulated the character of Phileas in her record-breaking trip.

Richmond Theatre Tickets
Until Sat 20 May 2023

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1 thought on “Around the World in 80 Days at Richmond Theatre”

  1. it was a fab production…ingenious re-telllng of an well-loved story, fast-paced, very physical…and hilariously funny…a real “feel’good” evening. Don’t miss this!

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