Review: Around the World in 80 Days at Liverpool Playhouse

By Nigel Smith

SINCE it was originally made in 2013, this production of Around the World in 80 Days has entertained audiences up and down the country in numerous tours, surely clocking up more miles than the intrepid travellers in its story ever imagined.

Mind you, they have had more than 80 days to do it. We last saw it here in Liverpool in the autumn of 2017 and here it is back again and, with one exception, featuring the same cast. The big question is can they continue to produce the same energy, enthusiasm and magic after performing the show so many times together, and the answer is a very big yes.

Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story has the feeling of a group of actors emptying out the contents of the dressing-up box and finding anything they can lay their hands on to make props to represent everything they need to tell the story, from a railway carriage to an elephant. The sense of magic and illusion immediately wakens up our sense of imagination and the whole world is all there before us, encircled by a stack of suitcases.

Director Theresa Heskins ensures that the pace never lets up for a moment, and the story explodes rather than unfolds in a rollercoaster of joyous wit and colour. The last time I saw this production I noted that the fist act sagged a little in places, but it certainly doesn’t now. There isn’t a moment when we aren’t swept along with the sheer energy of it all.

The production employs physical theatre to great effect, with tremendous use of mime and sleight of hand. The central trio of the accidental explorer Phileas Fogg, his long-suffering valet Passepartout and the hapless Inspector Fix are, of necessity, the focus of the piece, but they couldn’t produce the magic without the rest of the cast, all of whom have their performances honed to pinpoint accuracy.

Andrew Pollard is wonderfully insouciant as Fogg, and Dennis Herdman strikes just the right balance between authority and hopelessness with his Inspector. But it’s still Michael Hugo who wins the audience over every time as he tirelessly takes the pratfalls and indignities that the story throws at him in his stride with a huge smile and unflappable charm.

This is immensely entertaining and very stylishly presented theatre, suitable for all the family, so no surprises that it continues to grow in popularity. It is here in Liverpool until Saturday and then will appear in Salisbury after Easter, before setting forth to conquer America with dates in New York and Florida. Here’s hoping they have a slightly smoother ride than Mr Fogg and his friends.