Thursday, 24 December 2015

Review Around The World In 80 Days

Around The World In 80 Days
By Laura Eason 

Odds On London Fogg

Before the internet put a girdle round the world in nano-seconds, TLT and her own Passepartout automobile recalls David Niven and Shirley MacLaine  on the telly floating in the basket of a hot air balloon in the 1956 movie.

It seems curious and remains unanswered in any way by this play, why a Frenchman Jules Verne would write a book about English gent Phileas Fogg with a British Empire Bank of England featuring majorly in the background.  However now American playwright Laura Eason  has adapted Verne's 1873 episodic adventure story Around The World In 80 Days into a tongue-in-cheek play directed by Lucy Bailey.

Phileas Fogg (a suitably phlegmatic Robert Portal), a London gentleman of mysterious independent means who lives a life of  mathematical precision attended by recently recruited French valet Jean Passepartout (an engaging Simon Gregor), accepts a £20,000 bet from his Reform Club whist pals.

Namely that he can travel the world in 80 days by rail and steamer clutching his copy of Bradshaw's Guide  - the world tending to mean the dominions of the then British Empire apart from the breakaway USA

But with any good book, it turns out what sounds most topical is in the original Jules Verne's novel : the Bank of England robbery, the gas left burning, the incompetence of Inspector Fix (Tony Gardner playing it with a touch of One Man Two Governors)  chasing the wrong man with his warrant.

While adventures rather than deep characterisation dominate the book, it remains a stonking story harnessing 19th century fascination with travel, Empire and exploration with a touch of the later Sherlock Holmes and an attempted nemesis in Fix who believes Fogg to be a gentleman thief.

This cheery pantomine-like version held the attention of the youngsters in the audience. A detailed set by Anna Fleischle adapts well enough to above ship and round-the-world locations while below deck the show starts with live piano playing.  The rest of the eight strong cast including Liz Sutherland and Eben Figueiredo inhabit a range of roles with a breezy comic competence.

Enjoyable but not perfect. The saloon style piano player features in the first few minutes but never appears again. and with the feel of a children's show, it did make TLT and her companion wonder whether the play could work just as well with an unadorned stage while keeping the ingenious props.

The grumpy old men in the Reform Club, an elephant ride led by Lena Kaur as the pachyderm's keeper, a  Hong Kong opium den and a turn by Tim Steed as an American colonel stick in the mind. But, the first act particularly sometimes felt less than varied in staging and pace once the initial character traits of the lead characters were established.

Still the testosterone-fuelled events are suitably softened with the rescue of widow Mrs Aouda (a graceful Shanyana  Rafaat) from the funeral pyre and Gregor's Passepartout enlivens proceedings in the second act when the actors break out of the fourth wall.

So it's another 80 days to add to the canon: A 1946 Orson Welles/Cole Porter flop (:o!!!) musical; a foxy 1972 Australian animation series; a 1984 mini series with Piers Brosnan and then Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan in a very loose adaptation.  All preceded by a 1919 silent German film Die Reise um die Erde in 80 Tagen.  

This skittish adaptation has plenty of playfulness, even explaining with the lightest of touches the lack of a hot air balloon. Yet it felt as if it could have explored more the impetus behind the book, threading in its literary allusions and social background. All this may have lent more variety to its staging to match the energy of the acting ensemble. An amber light. 

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