The Dukes‘ summer show in Williamson Park is one of the highlights of my year. But somehow this production just misses the usual high mark.
Nevertheless, writer Andrew Pollard has done a great job of adapting a complicated story into a version for a cast of six, cleverly conflating Passepartout and Phileas Fogg into one, and swapping the London Club wager for a bet between Lady Fogg and Lord Swindley that Passepartout, her butler, can get round the world in 80 days.
Lady Fogg renames Passepartout as Phileas Fogg, and gives him £20,000 (£2 million in today’s money) to help him on his way, and off he goes. But the wicked Lord Swindley commissions Inspector Fix, a freelance detective, to stop Fogg fulfilling the mission and so win the bet. To confuse matters further, Fix decides that Fogg is actually the man who has just robbed the Bank of England, so he wants the reward due if he can arrest him.
First stop is Bombay, or Mumbai as it is here, although as the story is set in 1872 at the height of the Raj, it would have been Bombay. This is just one of the cultural minefields which a modern day rendering of this fundamentally colonialist story must navigate. Meanwhile, crossing India by train, Phileas rescues Princess Auda (in disguise as a street food vendor) from an arranged marriage and takes her to Hong Kong where she has an uncle. They have lots of adventures along the way, with constant interference from Fix, including a particularly sticky shoot out in a Wild West camp. But all ends happily, and in the nick of time.
Sam Jones is adorable as Phileas, always polite and charming in the face of adversity, very British, and only lapsing into his native Huddersfield when things get a bit hot. Aleeza Humranwala is excellent as Princess Auda, who has to suffer for most of the plot but stays firmly centred throughout. Heather Phoenix as Inspector Fix gives us lots of laughs and for me, not enough boos, but that may just have been the audience on the night I saw it. Or it may be a problem with the set up.
The other three cast members double like crazy. Angelo Paragoso gives us a paroxysmal Lord Swindley as well as Dr Fu, a Wild West travelling medicine man whose musical number seems to be unintentionally clogged up by the mud. But he steals the show dancing inside a gorgeous dragon costume in Hong Kong,
Sibylla Meienberg is a patrician if somewhat soft-hearted Lady Fogg, and lots of other parts; and Darcy Kim, who is only in her second job, is meanly credited as ‘ensemble’ which covers a multitude of things including the legs of a wonderful elephant which delights us in Mumbai. I say meanly because the small parts are as important here as the others.
It’s a good adaptation. The acting is fine as is the direction by Sarah Punshon. So why is it not quite up to snuff? Pace, probably, and a slightly obscure set up. It seemed to take a while after a scene had ended to get us moving, and a while for a scene to start after we had all arrived. And actors moving between scenes need to stay in character as they go.
As for the set up, Swindley, standing on one side of the lake, commissions Fix, standing on the opposite bank, to be the baddie by telegram, a lovely whoosh sound effect that gets a laugh. But as we were walking to Mumbai, I heard a mother explaining to her child who Fix was and the nuances of the plot. You need to listen hard to get it.
I saw the third performance. I’m sure that once they’ve had a while to get used to it, and given that many of the crew are new to the park show, it’ll all hum along and be even better fun. The park is a beautiful setting, and with clement weather, chairs and a picnic, it’s a great summer night out.
All images by Gabi Dawkins
Around the World in 80 Days is on until August 27, 2023. For more information, click here.