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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

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.

Verdict
Bouncy whistlestop tour that overindulges in slapstick

Production Information

Production
Around the World in 80 Days
Venue
Union Theatre
City
London
Starts
August 8, 2018
Ends
September 1, 2018
Press night
August 10, 2018
Authors
Jules Verne (novel)
Book
Phil Willmott
Music
Annemarie Lewis Thomas
Lyrics
Phil Willmott
Director
Brendan Matthew
Musical director
Henry Brennan
Choreographer
Mitchell Harper
Set
Justin Williams, Jonny Rust
Costume
Justin Williams, Jonny Rust
Stage manager
Martin Brady
Cast includes
Sam Peggs, Connor Hughes, Jasmin Minjoot, Robert Oliver, Ceris Hine, Aoibhin O'Neill, Noe Bersier, Beth Bradley, Luke Cartledge, Courtney Hows, Annabelle Louise, Priscilla Osegie, Lucy Parsons, Ashley Shackell, Mikulas Urbanek, Ryan Willis, Kieran Wynne
Producer
Sasha Regan
Running time
2hrs 20mins