Simon Gregor (Passepartout) and Robert Portal (Phileas Fogg) in Around The World in 80 Days
Guest reviewer Patrick Lambe attended the opening night of Around the World in 80 Days at St James Theatre. See what he made of it here:
Creativity abounds in Lucy Bailey’s brilliantly inventive production as hands deliver props from out of trap-doors in the floor, sheets are flapped for sales or elephant’s ears and an electric fan is employed for a blizzard. Presented on a rough-hewn set, random items such as bicycle wheels are amongst the studied inventiveness of Anna Fleischle’s design.
There are many similarities between this and another highly physical adaptation, The 39 Steps, still enjoying a lengthy West End run. Both panoramic tales have as their hero an incorruptible square-jawed Englishman, and as Phileas Fogg, Robert Portal is the epitome of unflappable Empire sangfroid. Interestingly, the actor has also appeared in the aforementioned 39 Steps, as has his sidekick, Simon Gregor, who plays his valet Passepartout with assured physicality.
The cast of 8 work tirelessly to populate the stage with bustling crowds from around the world and there are other notable individual performances. Tim Steed is master of the instant vignette while Tony Gardner as Inspector Fix who trails Fogg on his globetrotting journey, nearly steals the show as he delivers yet another asinine policeman remark, and his fisticuffs scene with Passepartout was particularly well executed under the movement direction of Lizzie Gee .
There is a touching love story at the heart of this tale and Shanaya Rafaat as Mrs Aouda is a charming and strong heroine, just as capable of hauling on a rope in an emergency as encouraging the emotionally myopic Phileas to appreciate the beauty of his surroundings.
It is perhaps Phileas’s emotional journey which is insufficiently charted, and dramatically, we need to see this develop if the show is to make any visceral impact. In many ways though, this is a first class family frolic and writer Laura Eason has ensured that any vital exposition is inserted in all the right places while still sounding natural and unforced.
About Fiona Jane Weston
I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene.
I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now.
I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood.
With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response.
Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs.
2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK.
I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts.
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