Review: Around the World in 80 Days (Cadogan Hall)
Laura Eason's hilarious slapstick adaptation is revived for a UK tour
Eighty days to travel around the world is, of course, not such a feat in these times of super quick plane travel. What is a bit of a feat, however, is taking Jules Verne's complicated, 1873 story about a stuffy Englishman, colonialism, national identity and adventure - featuring 125 characters, numerous brawls and an elephant - and turning it into a two-hour stage-yarn suitable for ages 7-plus. The night I saw it there was not a twitchy bum in sight.
Much like the characters in the book itself, Theresa Heskins' production - being revived here for a UK tour - rolls up its sleeves and works with exactly what it's got. And what it's got is pure bolshie bravado, imagination and oodles of charm. Though it's hard to fill the cavernous (but beautiful) Cadogan Hall - the acoustics also aren't made for lo-fi theatre - the results are nevertheless a wonderfully warm, action-packed delight, which relies on the cast's physical prowess and a lot of silly slapstick.
Beginning with a demonstration of Phileas Fogg's boringly precise daily life, we are introduced to a London of top hat wearers and flower sellers. It's in Fogg's Reform Club that he rises to a wager that he can't travel the world in 80 days. Never one to refuse a bet, especially when he knows it's possible, Fogg sets off to prove his whist colleagues wrong with the help of his new French valet Passepartout.
The many fights are ingenious in this show. The have an air of comic book violence, using sound effects and witty physical turns to create a whole lot of choreographed, over the top spectacle. Most punches are thrown by Passepartout whose adversaries mime his blows landing in the manner of a slow-mo scene from The Matrix. With the Adam West-style 'kapows' accompany the exact movement they are an absolute giggle to watch whether you're old or young.
When Fogg and his troupe get stuck outside Bombay and are forced to ride an elephant, the beast is created with the help of nothing but some grey material draped over an actor. Turn that elephant round and the actor's tassled hat suddenly becomes dumbo's tail. There are many more DIY moments throughout this production, all of which shine with the unique nous of the company.
Michael Hugo's Passepartout is a total treat. He plays to the audience in moments that will have the kids screeching with laughter. When he is drugged in an opium den by the dastardly Inspector Fix, he calls upon the front rows to help him crawl off stage. He's fun, silly, friendly and makes the entire audience feel involved.
But all the cast pull their weight in this ensemble production, from Simi Egbejumi-David's impressive acrobatics to Andrew Pollard's remorselessly stiff upper-lipped Fogg. And this is what makes it work. Laura Eason's smart adaptation also manages to offer opportunities for a bit of a geography and history lesson without bashing us round the head with it. And even the slightly dated colonialist politics are used as a way of demonstrating how rich other cultures can be and how no-one deserves to be governed by force. It may take Phileas and his friends 80 days, but these two hours fly by.
Around the World in 80 Days runs at Cadogan Hall until 2 September and then tours the UK.