Jonathan Hall reviews Toby Hulse’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days now playing at the Leeds Playhouse.
Around the world in Eighty Days
Around the world in Eighty Days is a terrific evening of storytelling, perfect for a bright spring evening; this story of just getting out there and attempting the seemingly impossible makes a welcome counterpoint to the dismal backdrop of Brexit news currently dominating our headlines.
Jules Verne’s tale of global circumnavigation is one I’d read as a child, before seeing various adaptations including the star-cameo driven film and a truly seventies creation of cartoon with Phileas Fogg is presented as a lion. This Leeds Playhouse version adapted by Toby Hulse is faithful to the novel, and where it’s not faithful it is faithful about not being faithful- the various deviations from the plot are pointed out by no less than Jules Verne himself (Dan Parr) playing both jovial interjector and (rather wonderfully) Auoda, rescued Princess and faithful companion.
This sets the tone for the evening; a madcap romp of a novel becomes a madcap romp of a play; some elements of the story- storms at sea, a funeral pyre, steamships, trains and, most memorably, an elephant are brought inventively and joyously to life through movement, sound and general shenanigans with climbing frames, planks and fabrics, other elements (including my favourite, a buffalo stampede) are rather frustratingly presented as narration by Verne himself.
An ensemble cast (Parr, Joe Alessi, Darren Kuppan and Robert Pickavance) race through a variety of roles with humour and commitment- a plethora of British dialects ensured that depictions of various nationalities around the world never strayed into disrespectful caricature. Their undoubted energy and stamina- we had virtually everything from acrobatics to barbershop singing- under the direction of Alexander Ferris ensure the pace never flags and the energy never drops. The brilliant and inventive use of basic frames and boxes to create a myriad of scenes and scenarios showcases theatrical storytelling at its best.
The presence of Verne brings an intriguing element to the evening by implicitly raising the question of how often liberties are taken with an author’s text when adapting to another medium, – and how they might feel about having elements excised or replaced. In this case the argument revolves around the presence (or not) of a hot air balloon (there in the film but not in the novel)- an argument which is spectacularly resolved at the end of a production that one would like to think Verne himself would have enjoyed just as much as the multi-aged enthusiastic audience did. It’s great that this show is going out into the Leeds community, with a tour of nine local Clubs and Community Centres, hopefully bringing this uplifting tale to a fresh audiences and maybe even inspiring the story-tellers and story-makers of the future.
Until 28 April 2019