Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Around the World in 80 Days review at Union Theatre, London – ‘energetic, but too much slapstick’

Cast of Around the World in 80 Days at Union Theatre, London. Photo: Mark Senior Cast of Around the World in 80 Days at Union Theatre, London. Photo: Mark Senior
by -

Tapping into the Victorian fascination with speed, time and travel, Jules Verne’s much-adapted novel Around the World in 80 Days tells the tale of debonair gentleman traveller Phileas Fogg and his mission to circumnavigate the globe in record time.

This musical adaptation by Phil Willmott and Annemarie Lewis Thomas (which marks an improvement in the Union’s acoustics) engages in plenty of panto-ish nudge-nudge-wink-wink clowning, to which director Brendan Matthew grants free rein amid an array of luggage, ladders, hot-air balloons and elephants.

It’s hard to ignore the story’s problematic elements. ‘Cultural sensitivity’ was largely unknown to the Victorians but the broad stereotypes and the white, male saviours swooping in to save the Indian Princess Aouda from the practice of “suttee” (a widow burning herself to death upon the demise of her husband) have a Disney-ish quality that feels like a step backwards, even in a comic romp.

As Fogg, the suave Sam Peggs brings stiff-upper-lip British entitlement and the gradual thawing of a heart underneath a strictly scheduled existence, and Connor Hughes is endearing as gullible Gallic valet Passepartout. While many of the cast members are recent drama graduates – the large ensemble is uniformly enthusiastic – the authoritative comic timing of Ceris Hine as trilling, tea-sipping missionary Miss Fotherington is a pleasure.

The songs are variable, the best being the earwormish Passepartout and Fogg and Aouda’s love-hate duet What Do I Love?. But just as Fogg would get much more out of his travels if he stopped to look at the sights, this production, in all its madcap energy, might benefit from taking a deep breath and reflecting on what it wants to convey.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Bouncy whistlestop tour that overindulges in slapstick