Around the World In 80 Days

What a delight this is. Toby Hulse’s charming adaptation of the ultimate globetrotter’s tale is told in small scale – there are just three actors, on a teensy stage – but transports its young audience deep into the far-flung realms of the imagination.

The mood is self-referential, knowing and absurd, with plenty of running gags about the impossibility of staging the show with just a trio of actors and minimal props. The famed hot-air balloon is ridiculed and declined throughout as “romantic nonsense”; we are told that Princess Aouda is indisposed and can’t be with us, when really her absence is because the same actor is already on stage playing another part; and what Phileas Fogg calls “the justifiably famous storm at sea scene” is rendered with just a jug of water, a billowing piece of blue fabric and some whooshing noises. It’s one of the audience’s favourite moments.

Limitations become the magic here, with the tiny details urging the story along. The small, egg-shaped and cocooning auditorium intensifies this approach, holding the audience quite rapt. To conjure up the image of a long rail journey, a toy train wends its way silently through the auditorium under torchlight; a sober portrait of Fogg in his London drawing room is variously embellished to reflect where he is on his jaunt, with a turban added when he reaches Bombay.

This approach only works, though, because the actors play their roles with such gusto. Craig Edwards gives us a Fogg who could be from a silent film, all raised eyebrows and superbly waxed moustache, while Gregor Henderson-Begg’s Fix of the Yard is brilliantly hapless. Most astonishing, though, is Jessica Pidsley in a terrifically warm and funny professional debut as Passe-partout. One of the most ticklish scenes involves her repeatedly and exhaustedly switching from playing Passepartout, who cannot lie, and a member of staff at a British Consulate who will not give out any information, ending up in a brilliant tangle of costumes, props and accents. She is a comic actor to watch.

Lee Lyford’s direction makes the most of Hayley Grindle’s hilariously malleable set, which is home to elephants, the Pacific Railroad and transatlantic crossings. Film projections, which the characters appear to step in and out of, give history and geography this shimmering, liquid sense of endless possibility, too, so we believe – if just for a couple of hours – in this fantastical Victorian adventure.

This is old-fashioned storytelling in the best sense, with an impressive blend of low-tech marvel and clever postmodern tomfoolery. It’s a resolutely cheering journey to behold.
— **** The Guardian

Venue

The Egg at the Theatre Royal Bath

Cast

Craig Edwards
Jessica Pidsley
Gregor Henderson-Begg