A collaboration between the New Vic and the Royal Exchange theatres, Around The World In 80 Days owes less to the 1956 film version starring David Niven than it does to the 1980s cartoon Around The World With Willy Fog – certainly in spirit anyway.
Adapted by Laura Eason from the novel by Jules Verne, the play sees our hero, Phileas Fogg, wagering £20,000 that he can travel around the world within 80 days without the use of air travel. No sooner has Fogg made the bet with fellow Reform Club gents than we are hurtling across the globe, pursued by the hapless but determined Inspector Fix – who is convinced that Fogg is a wanted bank robber.
We travel across Europe, into Asia and finally through America, picking up and dropping off different characters along the way; rescuing an Indian princess, duelling with a trigger-happy American colonel, joining a circus troupe and buying an elephant.
This faithful adaptation just never lets up. The pace is relentless and the slapstick comedy is milked for all its worth by the uniformly impressive cast.
Michael Hugo is outstanding as Passepartout, Fogg’s valet and the real brawn behind the operation. Displaying a confidently playful (and energetic) comedic style, Hugo is wonderful – his fight scenes in particular are straight out of a kung fu movie (the 2004 comedy Kung Fu Hustle an obvious comparison), and bursting with invention and humour (the slow-mo effects are a treat).
Dennis Herdman is excellent in the role of Fix, an almost pantomimic villain, spitting and snarling deliciously (with perfect comic timing and a voice like chocolate); his quarry always a fingertip out of reach.
Andrew Pollard as Fogg gives this frenetic production balance, displaying the utter Englishness of the character perfectly – unruffled, the calm ‘eye’ at the centre of the storm.
Theresa Heskins’ direction is sharp, the design is unfussy and economical (suitcases double as trains and boats, a jacket becomes an elephant’s head) and the music unobtrusive and appropriately urgent.
By the time we’re back in dear old Blighty, the audience is breathless. We’ve been on an incredible journey. First class.
Images by Andrew Billington
What: Around the World in 80 Days
Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
When: until August 16, 2014
More info: www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=782