Montreal Gazette’s Jim Burke reviews Around the World in 80 Days: “a skilfully played, delightfully self-deprecating send-up”
Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Around the World in 80 Days, Economy Class
Around the World in 80 Days, Economy Class
by Jim Burke
The world is getting smaller thanks to miraculous technological advances; after all, as one character marvels in this fast-moving take on Jules Verne’s 1870s classic, Around the World in 80 Days, information can travel from England to Australia in only a matter of days.
This co-production between young people’s theatre company Geordie Productions, Hudson Village Theatre and Theatre Lac Brome shrinks Verne’s world to even smaller proportions, thanks largely to Brit playwright Toby Hulse’s larky adaptation. It gets lots of mileage out of a cast of three and little more than 80 minutes; the economy class alternative, in fact, to the lavish Théâtre du Nouveau Monde version of a couple of years back.
Chimwemwe Miller plays Verne’s obsessively punctual English gent Phileas Fogg and Danielle Desormeaux his loyal French valet Passepartout. Mike Hughes is the Clouseau-like Inspector Fix, hot on the pair’s trail because he believes Fogg’s suitcase is stuffed with swag from a Bank of England heist. These three actors also populate the stage with the story’s many incidental characters, often with a knowing wink at the buffoonery and bedlam arising from the necessity of wearing, literally, so many hats.
Sabrina Miller’s set design consists largely of suitcases and trunks out of which the means for representing Fogg and co’s globetrotting adventures inventively emerge; a model train here, an Indian princess there. At one point, a trunk is revealed to contain, well, a trunk, as the cast reproduces the journey-by-elephant to Allahabad.
A map of the world hung at the back handily lights up at geographical spots to indicate where we are at in the journey. The cast also finds increasingly inventive ways to indicate how many days have passed as the all-important 80th one, which could spell either glory or financial ruin to Fogg, approaches.
Director Mike Payette has clearly aimed at drilling his cast to mimic the precision-tooled workings of a fob watch. Sound designer Rob Denton’s ticking, chiming musical accompaniment adds to the effect.
Given the demands of whiplash timing on the actors, it’s understandable that the pacing gets fumbled here and there. (I caught the show on the afternoon it had just arrived at Hudson from Lac Brome; hopefully, it’s had time to settle in by now). Occasionally Hulse’s script overplays the silliness at the expense of the narrative. At such moments, you might well find yourself sighing: “Are we there yet?”
Mostly, though, it’s a skilfully played, delightfully self-deprecating send-up, reminiscent of the famous Thirty-Nine Steps spoof which played here a couple of years back. It especially makes very amusing use of repetition, as when Hughes is called on to repeatedly explain the science behind different time zones. A recurring joke about not travelling by hot-air balloon also adds to the fun. That’s the mode of transport most associated with the story, of course, and the one Verne didn’t actually write about. It comes from the 1956 film version starring David Niven. Fans of that film shouldn’t despair, however, as there’s a beautiful compensatory pay-off.
Audiences will no doubt get a kick out of experiencing this most famous of itinerant tales at the converted train station that is the Hudson Village Theatre. The theatre is undergoing the next leg of its own journey right now. The successor to Matthew Tiffin, who recently ended his lively but brief tenure as artistic director, has just been announced. It’s Andrea Romaldi, who previously worked as literary manager of Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre and who currently teaches playwriting at the National Theatre School, a position she’ll be retaining.
Around the World in 80 Days is at Hudson Village Theatre, 28 Wharf Rd., Hudson, to Aug. 20. Tickets $33, plus tax and service charge. Call 450-458-5361 or visit villagetheatre.ca
AT A GLANCE:
Two plays open this week as part of Canada Pride Montréal. At Théâtre Ste-Catherine (84 Ste-Catherine St. W), Brave New Productions are presenting Jonathan Toley’s comedy Buyer and Cellar, which imagines an out-of-work actor getting a job in Barbara Streisand’s (real life) basement mall. It’s playing on Aug. 15, 17 and 18. Tickets cost $25, students and seniors $22. Meanwhile, over at Café Cléopâtre (1230 St-Laurent Blvd.), Axe to Grind Theatre is putting on the cheeky off-Broadway hit, Naked Boys Singing, a celebration of male nudity in comedy, song and dance. It plays Aug. 16 to 20. Tickets are $25 to $40.
The inaugural production of new Montreal company Cabal Theatre opens this week at Mainline Theatre (3997 St-Laurent Blvd.). Tragic Queens uses video and live performance to explore the lives of modern day “sad girls” and doomed historical figures. It plays from Aug. 17 to 27. Tickets are $25, students and seniors $20.