Around the World in 80 Days

Saturday, 1 December, 2001
Review by: 
Mark Barlow

Nowhere in the West-End will you see theatre as innovative, exciting and enchanting as Around The World In Eighty Days at the BAC.

Phil Willmott, with the help of his Steam Industry team, has been directing Christmas musicals at the Battersea Arts Centre for nearly ten years now, and his revivals of popular classics have made the BAC Christmas show a must-see in any theatregoers diary. And this year he has done it again.

Last year's Uncle Ebenezer was his first attempt at a brand new piece, although he used popular tunes and traditional songs for the score of his Christmas Carol adaptation. This year, with his musical director Annemarie Lewis Thomas, he has gone one step further and written a brand new score for his adaptation of Jules Verne's novel Around The World In Eighty Days.

The fast-paced adaptation takes us around the world in considerably less time than eighty days, while keeping us interested in the central characters and their fate throughout. The action takes place in the centre of a thrust seating, with a two tiered structure at the far end of the playing area, which is used for various purposes throughout. You may wonder how on earth one can stage air-born balloon chases, elephant rides, Chinese dragon parades and can-can dances at the Moulin Rouge all in the postage stamp auditorium at the BAC - but with economic choreography (by Jack Gunn), ingenious set design (by Hansjorg Schmidt) and breathtaking puppetry to rival the gasps at The Lion King (designed by Mervyn Millar), Willmott's production is pure theatrical magic.

Once again, he has managed to assemble a brilliantly talented and experienced cast and persuaded them to work for nothing. The charismatic Bill Ward leads the cast as Phileas Fogg, alongside Rae Baker who plays his love interest Queen Aouda. Together they perform one of the most memorably touching and amusing numbers in the show, "What Do I Love?", as the reluctant lovers are forced to explain just that by Miss Fotherington (a perfectly pitched performance by Jane Lucas).

Also impressive is Timothy Mitchell as Fogg's Parisian sidekick Jean Passepartout, who provides most of the chuckles, and Phil Willmott himself who plays the villain Captain Fix with relish; saving Bang! - the most hilarious number in the show - for himself, in which he kills every fluffy animal in the vicinity with zeal.

Around The World In Eighty Days may not be the next new musical the world has been waiting for on paper, but as a piece of visual theatre - it is very special - and should not be missed.

Mark Barlow, London Reviewer
Review courtesy of Musical Stages Online

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