Review: Around the World in 80 days, New Theatre Cardiff

If you like to travel and you love adventures, Jules Vernes ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ is probably as far as you can escape without actually travelling!

It is 150 years since the English publication of Jules’ novel, and the world feels a much smaller place to all those decades ago. Where once far flung countries could only be seen in most people’s imagination, they are now more accessible.

Fast forward a century and a half, there is much irony in the origins of the latest production of ‘Around the World’. It re-emerged in 2021 when foreign travel could only be dreamt of because of the Covid restrictions.

But there were dreams and escapism aplenty as this York Theatre Royal production checked-in to the Welsh capital. Cardiff’s New Theatre this week is in for a fast moving, hold-on-to-your-hats, rollercoaster of a show which has young and old cheering and clapping.

Alex Phelps, Genevieve Sabherwal and Eddie Mann. Photo credit: Anthony Robling

Most of us know the legendary story of Phileas Fogg’s epic bet with friends at the Reform Club to traverse the world in just 80 days.

Less of us know about the American journalist Nellie Bly, who would complete her own global adventure in 1873, and break Fogg’s record – in real life.

Juliet Foster’s brilliant adaption intertwines the two stories with clever inter-play. The audience learns more about the world from Bly’s recited memoires than Fogg, who has one mission – to win his bet.

He does of also ‘win’ a wife on his travels as well, rescuing the ill-fated Aouda from the jaws of death in India.

Two such complex stories are brought magically to life by a band of travelling, often bickering, performers.

The audience is treated to a wonderful performance from a small, multi-talented cast who can juggle, dance, and no end of other circus tricks as they bring to fact and fiction to the stage.

Katriona Brown. Photo credit: Anthony Robling

Various props are used to recreate the modes of transport undertaken in those far flung Victorian times. One actress, Katriona Brown even becomes an elephant when all over transport options are lost to Fogg in India!

Alex Phelps, Wilson Benedito, Genevieve Sabherwal and Eddie Mann Photo credit: Anthony Robling

The use of ladders to create the trans-America train journey and the ‘rolling’ of the set to recreate the journey across the Atlantic is superb.

I won’t give too much away, but the stage trap door has probably never seen so much use in the history of the New Theatre!

As I say, the cast is small but certainly agile. Alex Phelps is excellent as Phileas Fogg, and also the ring master to quite a circus performance in Japan.

Wilson Benedito is Fogg’s manservant Passepartout and one of the clowns in the circus. This was a real chance for Benedito to show off his amazing acrobat skills. He can even sing standing on his head!

Eddie Mann had many of the best lines as Detective Fix, a knife thrower, and the driver of the American train – the shootout was a real highlight and very funny.

Genevieve Sabherwal, Eddie Mann and Katriona Brown. Photo credit: Anthony Robling

Genevieve Sabherwal was Aouda, and the aforementioned Katriona Brown was Nellie Bly, and another acrobat.

Her depiction of Bly, especially the recitals of her travel memoires, were poignant reminders of a time when we didn’t understand the world quite so well.

Perhaps we still don’t, which is why a night of escapism, laugher and adventure like this is just the ticket.

Around the World in 80 Days is at the New Theatre, Cardiff, until Sunday, June 25, 2023.

To find out more and t0 book tickets, click here.

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