The story of a wealthy Englishman, Phileas Fogg, travelling an absurd distance to win a bet, Around the World in 80 Days may be a Victorian classic, but it has the comfortable feel of a Top Gear special. The simple premise remains largely unaltered in this pacy, adaptation of Jules Verne’s Victorian novel, which makes up for a lack of nuance and polish with sheer exuberance.
The humour is broad and the stereotypes broader. Robert Portal plays Fogg as a toned down Stephen Toast, pompous and declarative, and his manservant, Passepartout, prances and pratfalls as every continental cliché must. They are quickly joined by a plaintive Indian princess and a bumbling London copper, and the audience duly traipses after this troupe of tropes, taking in everything from a Chinese opium den to a gunfight in the Wild West. The swift progression of scenes ensures that the momentum never flags, but besides a few set-pieces there is little ingenuity in the staging, and the whole show leans hard on bad physical comedy, which often feels barely choreographed.
Verne may have foreseen a world of skyscrapers and electrical submarines, but his political vision fell short of our 21st century sensibilities. Despite claiming to have revised Verne's piece of imperialist populism to make it more 'relevant' (read: 'palatable'), script writer Laura Eason largely subordinates any radical post-colonial agenda in the service of old fashioned slapstick. This will frustrate parents hoping to smuggle education past their children, but the choice is a sound one: this is not a play built to make anyone think.
There is no ignoring the thrifty aesthetic, nor the hammy dialogue, but the cast are blessed with a vaudevillian alchemy that makes sure the show never lacks charm or energy. The best-written joke of the night reminds the audience that Phileas Fogg’s famous hot air balloon never appeared in Verne’s novel – maybe, but its image hovers over this soaring, enjoyable production, essentially empty but kept afloat by sheer warmth.
Suitable for ages 8+
|What||Around the World in 80 Days, St. James Theatre|
|Where||The Other Palace Theatre, 12 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Victoria (underground)|
26 Nov 15 – 17 Jan 16, Show times vary
|Website||Click here to book via St. James Theatre|