"An absolute joy. A tonic"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 11/10/17

Snap! Crackle! Pop! No, I’m not reviewing breakfast cereals, but the phrase came into my head in relation to the excellent New Vic production now playing at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. For good measure I would add Crash! Bang! Wallop! (And Fizz!) Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, directed with verve and flair by Theresa Heskins, is an absolute joy. A tonic. An antidote to news bulletins that drive us to despair. (If I could allocate an extra star for zero mentions of the B and T words, I would. Rare restraint.)

How do you deal with the impossibility of bringing to the stage 125 characters, eight countries, six trains, five boats, four fights (oh! the fights!), a circus and an elephant. Not to mention the whole world. Well, you assemble a hugely talented and versatile team, then give a master class in crackling creativity and choreography, physical theatre, immaculate timing, exemplary sound and lighting effects. That’s how. Simple. Theresa Heskins’ programme notes are illuminating and inspiring.

The attention to detail was very pleasing – the remote throws, the ad-libs, the fight scenes (absolute belters, even down to catching bullets) the quick change costumes that, along with the music and lighting, effectively gave us all the thrills of the circus; the dark pleasures of an opium den; an American rancher who exemplified all that Charles Dickens disliked about the then spittoon-loving USA; a sacred temple and more. I’m pretty sure I glimpsed Queen Victoria at one point. Designer Lis Evans references the wit and simplicity of the production (more excellent programme notes).

Andrew Pollard’s thoroughly decent, yet remote Phileas Fogg goes on more than just a physical journey, thanks to his fellow travellers, especially Kirsten Foster’s Mrs Aouda, whose beauty, wit and courage help him to look up from his Bradshaw’s Guide and actually see the world he is circumnavigating. The hapless Inspector Fix, under the delusion that Fogg is a notorious bank robber, is in hot pursuit. Dennis Herdman’s running gags, John Cleese/Clouseau homages and major ineptitude are to be relished. A particular thorn in his side is Michael Hugo’s Passepartout, splendidly handy with his fists (did I mention the fights?), good hearted and very, very funny. Not in the least fey – which is one of my personal dreads. His audience interaction was great and for once I wished I was in the front row. I would have been putty in his hands.

The wide range of accents and national characteristics was tackled with gusto by Pushpinder Chani, Matthew Ganley and Joey Parsad, playing many parts, but particularly and respectively Mr Naidu, Colonel Proctor and Miss Singh, with understudies and ASMs Jessica Lucia Andrade (Dance Captain) and Stefan Ruiz (Fight Captain). Many congratulations to them all and the whole creative team..

I’m delighted to say that I laughed out loud and did something I rarely do – joined in the well-deserved standing ovation.

I make a point of only reviewing plays I expect to like and can therefore recommend wholeheartedly. This production has everything, including a splendid elephant, and is a delight. I loved it.

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