circus world

Picture: Anthony Robling

Around the world in 80 days

Derby Theatre


Six years ago Derby theatre performed Laura Easons’ adaptation of this classic story directed by Theresa Heskins. The 2023 production 150 years on from the original English publication, is very different and unrecognisable from its previous incarnation, this time directed by Juliet Forester for Tilted Wig productions.

Jules Verne’s classic story has obvious cinematic possibilities realised by others in the past, and equally obvious drawbacks as the basis for a stage adaptation. How do you portray a worldwide journey on a theatre stage?

Yet that conundrum is also the basis for this dramatic incarnation of the tale. You don’t. You allow the audience’s imagination to do the work. Circus has long been the home of tall stories and impossible feats. Thus Director Juliet Forester chooses a circus motif and theme to develop the story which is presented to the audience by a group of circus performers as a play within a play. As a novelty she also tells the story of Nellie Bly, who travelled around the world in just 72 days.

Sensibly, Forester eschews the problems of depicting eight countries and utilises a single circus set with a roller banner identifying which country the characters were in at any given time. Sara Perks’ split-level colourful set dominates, its hidden hatch facilitating the best joke of the evening. The see-saw is well used.

The play within a play device allows the circus performers to engage with younger members of the audience and comment upon the original story and some of its anachronistic elements as well as using the character of Nellie Bly to revise the entire premise of the proceedings. Katriona Brown is superb as Bly who somewhat overshadows Phileas Fogg, played by Alex Phelps.

Wilson Benedito makes the most of classic comic creation Passepartout, the hapless valet. Eddie Mann steals the show as Detective Fix attempting to thwart Fogg’s journey and bet, not least in a wild west shoot out which is ingeniously shoe horned into the production. Fogg’s 80-day trek ends with him finding happiness somewhat closer to home with Aouda (subtly played by Genevieve) in a schmaltzy denouement which was straight out of the Disney/Spielberg playbook. Verne hadn’t visited many of the destinations depicted, in the same way that Coleridge (Rime of the Ancient Mariner) had never been to sea, but this never impedes a good story.

This is a bold attempt to rework and reinvent a classic story for a modern audience and plays until Saturday 10th before continuing on nationwide tour.

Gary Longden


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