A big plus point in going outdoors to stage Jules Verne’s escapade is you have room aplenty to tether a hot-air balloon. The one that appears here, in the final leg of the global journey of Phileas Fogg, is a plump patchwork of primary colours, looking radiant against a backdrop of trees, hills and a river. It joins an inflatable sphinx and a blow-up elephant on the lawn outside the theatre.
Oddly, our intrepid explorers – Richard Colvin’s Fogg, joined by Blythe Jandoo’s tomboy Jean disguised as Passepartout and Nalân Burgess’s emancipated princess Aouda – make no attempt to travel in the balloon. Rather, they stand nearby, singing a musical-style song. They imply their journey instead of enacting it.
That is true of much of Mark Powell’s adaptation, which tends to cut out the travelling and leap straight to the destinations. The wild west follows Egypt, India, Hong Kong and France, the peril being less in the trains, boats and desert treks than in the calling points themselves.
In particular, it comes from Connor Going and James Hudson, a pair of knockabout villains, cartoonishly seeking to separate an oblivious Fogg from his money in a variety of culturally specific disguises, from Egyptian mummy to Chinese dragon. It is breezy fun even if, with the primary-school puns and make-believe violence, Powell strains too hard to please the younger members of the audience. Some jeopardy wouldn’t go amiss.
Instead, directors Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti go for a jokey production, as Rhiane Drummond’s uncommonly petulant Queen Victoria waits at home complaining about the profusion of landmarks in her name (she prefers Victoria sponge to Victoria station).
The script skates across the story, with little suggestion anyone might learn from circumnavigating the globe, although even the stuffy Fogg comes to appreciate the breaking down of gender boundaries. Jean keeps the expedition on track, while Aouda gets to think for herself after a lifetime of pampered subjugation.
An outdoor show like this could really do with live music – the pre-recorded tracks sit uncomfortably in such a natural environment – but the cast sing with gusto and seem to enjoy the freedom of an alfresco performance.
July 14, 2022 at 03:25PM Mark Fisher