All aboard! Everyone's gone gambling mad at the Battersea Arts Centre. Phileas Fogg claims he can travel round the world in 80 days and his wager has even grabbed the attention of Queen Victoria who's having a flutter.
We start at Greenwich and follow Fogg and his valet Passepartout from Paris to the jungles of India, the Far East and the Wild West, picking up all manner of waifs and strays on the way. Add commentary from Disraeli, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, some fantastic puppets and imaginative staging and the journey comes alive in glorious 'pop-up book' Technicolor.
Timothy Mitchell's Passepartout is a winning combination of Pee Wee Herman and Charlie Chaplin with a healthy dose of French charm - he steals the show. Bill Ward's Fogg reminds one at times of a Mr Darcy and this is the problem, he is too understated. However, Rae Baker and Jane Lucas as the feminist Queen Aouda and horsey Miss Fotherington respectively inject a dose of energy into the proceedings at every appearance.
This enchanting show is the brainchild of Renaissance man Phil Willmott who adapts Jules Verne's classic novel, writes the songs, directs and stars in the extravaganza to boot. His turn as the dastardly Captain Fix inspires boos and hisses but is a little flat. Luckily, his direction is not; each scene moves seamlessly and magically into the next.
Annemarie Lewis Thomas's score is solid and notable toe-tappers include: "Passepartout's Theme" and "What Do I Love?" That said, the solos lack distinction. The exception is the gospel anthem "Grab Another Wife", belted out by Paul Hazel as a Mormon preacher; it's hilarious and the musical highlight of the evening. Jack Gunn's choreography meanwhile is simple but effective, and the enthusiastic ensemble do well to drive proceedings ever forward round the globe.
Young and old alike are kept mesmerised by their antics. Will Fogg, Passepartout and Eugene the elephant make it back to Greenwich by Christmas day? Not if Captain Fix has anything to do with it. Grab a kid and get down to Around the World in 80 Days. Time flies and Michael Palin must be green with envy.
- Hannah Khalil