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Mr Monkey sees Around the World in Eighty Days at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 17th July 2014
End date : 16th August 2014
Visit date : 22nd July, 2014
Phileas Fogg (Andrew Pollard) and Passepartout (Micheal Hugo) on the train from London to Dover (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey looking at the Around the World in Eighty Days poster
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Around the World in Eighty Days.

Published as a serial in 1872 and as a book in 1873, Around the World in Eighty Days (originally Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours was the eleventh of the 54 novels in Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires series.

Phileas Fogg leads a very regular and unvarying life in London; apart from the results of his whist games, every day is the same. One day, all this changes. His morning cup of tea is the wrong temperature, so he has to sack his valet and hire a new one. In the evening he gets into an argument with acquaintances at the Reform Club, and bets that he can go around the world in eighty days. The wager is accepted and he sets out with Passepartout, his new valet, a Gladstone bag stuffed with banknotes and a copy of Bradshaw's guide to travelling around the world.

Obviously the trip doesn't go entirely to plan, largely because he is being pursued by Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard who is under the misapprehension that Fogg's bundle of cash was stolen from the Bank of England.

This adaptation by Laura Eason keeps fairly close to the original story, though with some changes to the journey across America and a change of destination when sailing from New York.

The stage is covered with a map of the world with the British Empire marked out in red, surrounded by reproductions of tickets, timetables and luggage labels. A linear map showing the cities on Fogg's route is attached to the front of the first gallery. As each city is reached, Fogg's progress is marked with a top hat sticker.

Small items of furniture, such as whist tables or office desks, are brought onstage when needed. The numerous railway carriages, steam ships, sailing ships and the odd elephant are created from from a versatile set of travelling trunks, a large collection of life belts and a coat.
Phileas Fogg (Andrew Pollard) consults his Bradshaws, while Passepartout (Micheal Hugo) looks out to sea (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Almost the entire cast trying to reach Liverpool (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Andrew Pollard, Micheal Hugo, Rebecca Grant and Dennis Herdman have one part each, respectively playing Phileas Fogg, Jean Passepartout, Kamana Aouda and Inspector Fix. All four are excellent in their roles, which are surprisingly complex given the simplicity of the basic story.

The other four cast members - Pushpinder Chani, Okorie Chukwu, Susan Hingley and Matthew Rixon - share 98 roles including several British Commissioners, the crews of numerous ships, the idle rich of the Reform Club, the working classes and exotic natives of many nations, and an entire American Circus. All four are expert at changing their costumes and accents very quickly.

The play is suprisingly funny, with a lot of physical interaction involving props and sleight of hand. Fights are elaborately choreographed with the combatants moving in slow motion and at opposite sides of the stage. In contrast, the acrobats of the American Circus are live and have no safety nets.

There's also a certain amount of audience participation - people on banquettes may find themselves retrieving abandoned hats or holding bits of scenery.

Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed this joyous romp, and thinks everyone should pack some bananas and a huge stack of banknotes into a bag and head to the Royal Exchange for a trip round the world in 120 minutes (with a 20 minute stop for ice cream).

Around the World in Eighty Days runs until 16th August 2014.

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