“Everybody dreams of a little adventure”
As part of the free theatre available at The Scoop at More London which is now in its 9th impressive year, Around the World in 80 Days is a streamlined version of Phil Willmott’s original production for the Battersea Arts Centre 10 years ago which truncates the action in 75 swift minutes, accompanied by a suite of catchy original songs by Annemarie Lewis Thomas. It is freely adapted from Jules Verne’s novel and so whilst the shape of Phileas Fogg’s journey, the result of a wager to traverse the globe in an unheard-of 80 days, remains the same, the action is enlivened with highly recognisable figures from Victorian England passing comment on his progress.
It is fast and furious and lots of good-natured fun. Eugene Washington’s stern Fogg is tempered by the lovable antics of Joseph Wicks’ Passepartout, his able assistant, and when they rescue the Princess Aouda – a personable turn from Suzanne Ahmet – from an Indian funeral pyre, even Fogg’s stony heart begins to melt as his eyes are opened to the vast cultural influences to which he is exposed as they journey through Asia – helped memorably by a grumpy elephant through the Indian jungle, mounted with great style – and then through the USA – with a great song set in Salt Lake City which predates The Book of Mormon by at least a decade! – before trying to make it back in time to England to settle the bet.
The simple but imaginative staging captures the various methods of transport well, the trains, the boat, even the hot air balloon; the songs are simple yet catchy, the jungle one even has a little dance routine which we’re all encouraged to learn and join in with at the end and Briony Price’s choreography works well in the open space. The addition of the extra characters is a nice touch, Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Disraeli having their own banter and Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson also monitor the progress, the frenetic doubling up of roles here leading to the best joke of the evening. This is undoubtedly fresh and fun and perfect for a late sunny afternoon with the kids: a refreshing alternative to being cooped up inside a stuffy theatre.