Review: Around The World in 80 Days. (touring) Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Around The World In 80 Days

Cambridge Arts Theatre

27th June 2023

Marking the 150th anniversary of Jules Verne’s classic novel, Tilted Wig Productions have brought ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ back to the stage, but this time with a difference.  Verne’s globetrotting-tale is told here by a rag-tag circus troupe, lead by the Ringmaster (Alex Phelps), who disagree between them over how best to tell the story, while interspersing it with tricks and comedy skits.  Amongst the bickering, the Acrobat (Katriona Brown) suggests that they intertwine the story with that of the real-life voyage of American journalist Nellie Bly, who recreated Verne’s journey in 1889 to prove that it could be done, and by a woman.  Not only did Bly defy the men around her by completing the journey, she also successfully knocked 8 days off the time.  A role-juggling cast of five tell the two stories as one, in a whimsically madcap production that’s been touring the country since February, and plays at the Cambridge Arts Theatre this week.

Adapted and directed by Juliet Forster, this production definitely has its own identity and a uniqueness that sets it apart from the standard adaptations of the story.  Forster fills the piece with humour and charm, plenty of fourth-wall-breaking and some brilliantly silly sketches which children will love.  The framing device of the circus gives the play a great energy and has been wonderfully brought to life by Sara Perks’ design and Hazel Jupp’s costumes.  The piece never stops moving and has been cleverly choreographed and thought-through by Movement Director Asha Jennings-Grant, helping to keep a great pace as the action unfolds.  Weaving the real and fictional voyages together is an interesting take, keeping the key plot points of Verne’s tale while also giving Bly’s more personal take on her journey and showing how she stopped to take it all in rather than just racing to the next destination as Phileas Fogg did (although to be fair he was being chased by a detective and wrongly suspected of bank theft!). 

The cast of five work tirelessly in multiple roles to tell the story (or stories!), and all do a great job, each having individual moments to shine and have a lot of fun with.  Singling anyone out of such a small hardworking cast feels unfair, but if pushed, Wilson Benedito in particular shines as The Clown/Passepartout, full of endearing French charm and likeability, and is a joy to watch.  Eddie Mann’s talent for sarcastic delivery is also fantastic, along with a range of flawless accents.  But the whole cast deliver and really throw their all into their performances.

‘Around The World In 80 Days’ is a slice of Vaudevillian fun, inventively presented with heaps of character and personality.  It runs out of steam a little in its latter half, and Bly’s story doesn’t quite get the same amount of stage time as Fogg’s, but this production brings a fresh new treatment of an old story, and is well worth revisiting.

‘Around The World In 80 Days’ runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 1st July 2023 before continuing on its UK tour until the end of July.

Performance runtime 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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