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.