150 years since its publication, Around the World in 80 Days is a story that continues to inspire and entertain us. Jules Verne’s classic tale of Phileas Fogg’s quest to circumnavigate the globe has been adapted multiple times in films, TV series and video games. This new version, adapted and directed by Juliet Forster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal, adds a new spin on the material that brings a sense of energy, anarchy and fun for the whole family!
A versatile and talented cast of five play circus performers trying to stage a (rather chaotic!) rendition of Verne’s Victorian-era novel. The quintet of actors, acrobats and puppeteers play multiple roles, such as Alex Phelps who deftly plays both the finicky Phileas Fogg and the beleaguered Ringmaster trying to keep the whole thing together. The antics have shades of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Went Wrong, making it an ideal introduction to theatre for kids and families.
The cast are on top form, bringing zeal and panache to a well-trodden tale. The show features a number of well-choreographed and excellently performed circus acts, including fight scenes, dance scenes and a standout battle over a see-saw that must have been far easier to perform than the actors made it look. While the first act lacks some pace, there is a zesty creativity to proceedings that keeps things chugging along, with puppets and props used to convey train journeys, elephant rides, and a tipsy tussle between Inspector Fix (Eddie Mann) and Passepartout (a hugely lovable Wilson Benedito).
Writer Juliet Foster, who also directs, does a great job of navigating the aspects of the story that haven’t aged quite so well, addressing the British colonialist underpinnings of the storyline in which Indian princess Aouda (Genevieve Sabherwal) is ‘rescued’ by Fogg and Passepartout, and shedding light on the real-life story of American journalist Nellie Bly (Katriona Brown) who, inspired by Verne’s story, undertook the same journey and broke Fogg’s (fictional) record by over a week.
The circus elements bring a sense of spectacle to the proceedings, with Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower twirling electric flames in a stunning light show (he also plays a sharpshooting cowboy with an action scene all to himself) while Barton whips a target in half from metres away. More circus antics and acrobats, of which this excellent cast are clearly capable, might have added even more to the story (perhaps even some more onstage musical or dance sequences), though the cast are consistently entertaining and Sara Perks’ stage and costume designs add pizzazz. With a little tweaking, though, it could be exceptional.
Originally staged in school fields and socially-distanced venues in 2021, and inspired by the many months spent locked down in our homes, Tilted Wig’s Around the World in 80 Days is a slice of escapism that will take you on a charming journey across the globe – and all without having to leave the New Theatre!
Around the World in 80 Days is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 22 – 25 June, before concluding its tour in July in Doncaster, Oldham and Bromley. More information and how to book tickets here.