The BBC’s latest season of Race Across the World with it’s mixture of exotic locations, a tight budget and the thrill of seeing celebrities becoming the rabbits and hares, as they compete and swap places on the podium week by week highlights why Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days is such a beloved text on stage, the small screen and the big screen.
Around The World In 80 Days
But if you have read the novel or seen an older version, you will realise the world as we knew it has changed.
And the idea of a British Empire, complete with twirly moustaches, top hats, frightfully posh accents and no real acceptance of the pain and horror of what the pursuit of Britishness cost others rightfully does not sit well anymore.
A Beautiful Christmas Adaptation
This beautiful and bouncy Christmas adaptation by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse acknowledges this in such a playful way, and with enough affection and respect for the original story that anyone who shouts “Woke!” at anything different or refreshing will be stroked into submission, like a cat that wants to bite you but cannot stop purring because you are being kind to them.
As the show begins, it is clear though that because there have been many changes, it does not seem as sure-footed, as you would like. It takes a short while to bring you into the narrative, the cast runs around creating mayhem and this should feel like the show is hitting the ground running.
Instead, it reminds you that travelling somewhere is only fun when you look out of the window and can see the sights.
Kash Arshad’s Wonderful Production
Once we begin to see and hear about the countries being visited, Kash Arshad’s production then gets to the heart of the piece, and it begins to take hold.
Polly Lister plays Lady Phileas Fogg ( A spirited and determined Polly Lister) and this brings some much-needed Va Va Voom to this race because when she announces she is going to race around the world, she is laughed at by men.
This means there is a new form of peril and you do find yourself rooting for this widow, with time on her hands, as she now has to rely on many of the interesting characters she meets.
The Joy of Friendships
And the show celebrates the joy of friendships and communities.
This is apt, as the Octagon Theatre is currently fundraising to get more young people into the venue, who may not be able to afford it.
Kai Spellman plays French butler Passeppartout with a glint in his eye and a surprise twist, which is expertly delivered, as it subverts so many stereotypes in one go.
Robert Jackson who was so great in Brief Encounter at the Octagon recently, gets to show how versatile he is again, with another effortless performance as Sir John Sullivan.
Emma Fenney enters into the spirit of these breakneck speed hijinks, costume changes and switch of accents as Lady Eliza Sullivan and a host of supporting characters.
The 39 Steps?
You are reminded of The 39 Steps and other productions where actors have to memorise a variety of roles, and there I am I struggling to remember who I have sent a Christmas card to, during the festive season. I am in awe.
Charlotte Linighan brings passion and energy as Felicity Fanshaw and she is great at encouraging the audience to be part of the proceedings.
As it’s a Christmas production, this is welcome she is a warm emcee.
The Wonderful Darren Kuppan
Darren Kuppan was brilliant in Let the Right One in at the Royal Exchange and it is great to see him centre stage as Amit Khatri, a man who is not what he seems.
His comic timing is finely nuanced and he can engage both young and old. And he manages to convey the poignancy and loss you feel when you have let a friend down. He really is terrific.
There is the odd scene where your concentration may lapse because you are visiting so many places, that it would be good to catch your breath. And I would have loved to have seen a live orchestra providing a backdrop through the music.
A Celebration of Child’s Play
But this is a production which celebrates so many things; the power of child’s play and the fact that Katie Scott’s costumes and props have the feel of something that could be created at home, engage children in a world filled with pyrotechnics and special effects.
It also celebrates the joy of live theatre and the fact that the Octagon is a real gem which provides joy for so many.
So if you are seeking something funny, affordable, old school but with enough contemporary twists and turns to please everyone and a hard-working cast who will make your kids ‘believe’ again. Then race to The Octagon and jump on board.
Around the World in 80 Days is at the Octagon Theatre until 6th January and can be booked here.