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Around the World in 80 Days review at Cadogan Hall, London – ‘simple theatrical magic’

Matthew Ganley, Michael Hugo, Andrew Pollard, Dennis Herdman and Kirsten Foster in Around the World in 80 Days. Photo: Andrew Billington Matthew Ganley, Michael Hugo, Andrew Pollard, Dennis Herdman and Kirsten Foster in Around the World in 80 Days. Photo: Andrew Billington

Forget the holiday airport hassle. Instead, take a good-natured trip around the world without leaving Chelsea, or somewhere nearer you on this production of Around the World in 80 Days’ widespread tour.

Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s popular novel, directed by Theresa Heskins, already has a reputation as engaging family entertainment, from its beginnings in-the-round at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The less intimate Cadogan Hall makes interaction with the audience more of a challenge, but spectators of all ages (it’s recommended for seven years and over) were reeled in on press night by the gentle, cartoon-style comedy.

Designer Lis Evans’ set consists mainly of trunks and packing cases, which become trains, boats or stairs. Eight actors present more than 100 characters from London to India, Japan and America, as Phileas Fogg, played by upright Andrew Pollard, attempts to win his wager by travelling the globe in 80 days while evading cunning Inspector Fix (moustachioed Dennis Herdman), who believes he is a bank robber.

Playful stereotypes abound without offence. The Victorian English are made fun of and there is even a low-key anti-colonial moment. (Why, in 1873, our heroes carry EU passports remains a conundrum, however.)

Children relish joining the multitasking cast in a game of Let’s Pretend as occupants of the front row aid the effect of chairs rocking on a steamer’s deck. The apparently simple effects succeed with clockwork timing and witty movement. During fight scenes, adversaries respond to punches without coming into contact and the repeated ‘throwing’ and instant ‘catching’ of bank notes is impeccably mimed.

Michael Hugo as Passepartout, Fogg’s lovable, accident-prone companion, is the comic heart of the show, but this is an ensemble piece in the best tradition of imaginative theatre.

Verdict
Simple, effective theatrical magic engages children's imagination in a fast-moving adaptation of Jules Verne's classic
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