AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 24th October, 2017
An absolute treat to be able to catch this New Vic production for the third time – but what can one say that has not already been said? I’ll probably repeat many of the plaudits of my previous reviews but here goes:
The hit show has a new lease of life with this lengthy tour. Originally produced in-the-round, this is a chance to see the action re-directed for end-on stages and, for the most part, it’s a great fit. With a new set by Lis Evans – all suitcases, packing trunks and umbrellas – a versatile space is created, with an ancient map as a backdrop. Warwick Arts Centre’s Butterworth Hall is perhaps a bit cavernous, denying us the intimacy of the New Vic’s cosy arena – the regular theatre space is undergoing refurbishment at present – but the cast work hard to get the show across.
All over again I am struck with wonder. James Atherton’s original score is the beating heart of the production, evoking sense of place and also the passage of time, as well as underscoring the action and the emotional beats of the story. Andrew Pollard’s stately but silly Phileas Fogg; a Frenchman’s satirical view of the Englishman abroad: eccentric, entitled but ultimately decent. I wonder if Jules Verne were writing today if his portrait would be less endearing, as we seem to have become a baffling, stubborn joke to the rest of the world. Kirsten Foster’s beautiful and elegant Mrs Aouda – the subtlety with which she has an effect on Fogg, awakening his emotions is a heart-warming delight. This is a Fogg to admire rather than to mock.
The action sequences still astound. The long-distance fighting allows for cartoonish excesses without physical contact, and the running gag of flying banknotes and passports does not get old. Director Theresa Hawkins has created a classic piece of comic theatre, rich with physicality and also theatricality. Sound effects, especially, are brought into play to heighten the atmosphere and augment the fun. The timing is super-impeccable. It is like watching the intricate workings of an exquisite clock as the indefatigable ensemble dart around, setting and striking scenes, creating illusion and impression as well as over a hundred characters. This is a show that uses great stores of imagination to get our imaginations working. We readily buy into the swaying ship’s rails and tilting furniture and there is hilarious interplay between the world of the play and the world of the performance, with audience members enlisted to perpetuate the effects.
And it is absolutely wonderful to see a new audience fall in love with the marvellous Michael Hugo. His Passepartout sees him at his most energetic, physically versatile and most lovable. Hugo is a living cartoon and seems to defy the limits of the human body and I suspect he may be a CGI character, projected somehow onto the stage…
The other players lend strong support: Pushpinder Chani’s Mr Naido, Matthew Ganley’s Colonel Proctor, Joey Parsad’s Miss Singh, all rushing about and coming and going to keep us on the move from country to country. Dennis Herdman’s nominal villain, the meddling Inspector Fix is an excellent foil for Hugo’s sweetly decent and naïve Passepartout. Herdman is also larger-than-life in his actions and reactions – we almost feel for Fix in his failures.
Above all, the story retains its charm. A frivolous wager reveals the best of human qualities: selflessness and determination among them.
On the road for more than 80 days, this ongoing tour is your chance to experience one of the finest productions I have ever seen. Breath-taking in both its invention and execution, uplifting and life-affirming, this is a superlative piece of theatre.
Review ends. If I have repeated myself, I am not sorry. I am consulting my gazetteer to see when I can catch it again.