Theatre Review: Around the World in 80 Days, Union Theatre

Southwark’s quaint and quirky Union Theatre plays host to Phil Willmott and Annemarie Lewis-Thomas’ musical adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days this August, with up-beat, slapstic, musical drama on display at a riveting tempo.

Produced by Sasha Regan (all Male Iolanthe; HMS Pinafore and Blondel) and directed by Brendan Matthew (Guy – the musical, My Land’s Shore and The Hired Man), this fun and fanciful musical will see audience members whisked away on a hot air balloon to join Phileas Fogg and his adorable madcap valet Passepartout as they race against time to do a single lap around the world in just 80 days.

With his entire fortune at stake, Phileas risks life and limb to win his bet against his arch nemesis and Big Game Hunter, Captain Fix, who will stop at nothing to thwart Fogg in his adventures.

The show gets off to an exhilarating start with a large cast collaborating well on the Union’s small and intimate stage. Robert Oliver’s animated portrayal of the mischievous Captain Fix is spot on, and the befuddled Connor Hughes in the shoes of Jean Passepartout and the stiff Sam Peggs as Phileas Fogg are well-fitting adaptations. Ceris Hine as Miss Fotherington brought a healthy dose of experience to an otherwise fledgling cast, and was a noticeably stand-out performer.

Europe zips by with burlesque shenanigans that just about manage to maintain the early tempo, but as Fogg and Passepartout get lost in the jungle, as does much of the momentum of the show. Occasional quips fail to satisfy many parts of the audience other than the two, clearly placed, gigglers on the back row who laugh on cue. At times it is fun, at others it slips into panto level humour that is a bit flat.

In all, it seems as though the producers have bitten off more than they can chew. A cast of some 17 actors are, for the most part, surplus to requirement. The necessity to squeeze in song, dance and drama is also a tad stretched. And when you have five continents, 80 days, a hero, a villain and a love story to cram in you really are taking on a commitment you cannot fulfil, and it is little wonder that the ending seems like an afterthought as the last glorious leg of the journey gets wrapped up in under 10 minutes.

A good effort all told, but perhaps a little overly ambitious.

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