by Toby Hulse.

Chipping Norton Theatre and Oxfordshire Theatre Company Tour to 23 November 2014.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 October at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

Fun but not frivolous.
Jules Verne, whose story has been freely, at times wildly, adapted by Toby Hulse for Chipping Norton Theatre and Oxfordshire Theatre Company’s voyage around villages and small towns, is often considered a writer of science fiction. On the basis of this piece, he might better be described as a writer of fiction about science.

Every means of propulsion he describes as English gentleman Phileas Fogg and his suddenly-acquired and aptly-name servant Passepartout speed round the globe in record time to win a wager, is one available when Verne published his novel in 1873. Some were very new – it was the completion of the railroad across North America that lead to the ‘one small step’-style declaration the world could now be so speedily rounded.

Hulse’s adaptation acknowledges this – typically – in a joke, long before slipping in mention of the variety of travel methods used. Passepartout’s suggestion, repeated at moments of scheduling crisis, that they resort to hot-air balloon (an icon introduced by the 1956 film) is rejected as balloons are capricious conveyances not subject to rational control.

If people travel fast, English bureaucracy is dependably slow-moving, with Fogg’s would-be nemesis, Fix of the Yard, repeatedly awaiting arrest warrants at each British-controlled port-of-call, as he pursues Fogg, convinced he’s a notorious gentleman burglar.

John Terry’s production, with an excellently-selected cast, works energetically without ever-seeming overstretched. Except where it’s deliberate, in a scene playing with the acknowledgment an actor has to be in two places, or two characters, at once.

Anna Tolputt builds a sense of growing desperation as the story insists she quick-changes repeatedly between Passepartout and an absurdly moustachioed customs passport official, beautifully fusing the story with the awareness of small-scale theatre’s epic demands.

Hulse, and Terry, rightly hold Richard Hurst’s Fogg aloof from the comic action, a comparatively still centre amid the mayhem and escapades Phileas’s demands causes the others.

Gareth Cassidy’s Fix schemes with a skill to match the criminal mind he believes he’s outfoxing in Fogg. Cassidy also provides cameos from various continents as the action utilises the emblematic Victorian technology suggested by Alex Marker’s highly practical set.

Fix of the Yard: Gareth Cassidy.
Phileas Fogg: Richard Hurst.
Passepartout: Anna Tolputt.

Director: John Terry.
Designer/Costume: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Amy Southeard.
Composer: Eamonn O’Dwyer.
Movement: Bronya Deutsch.
Assistant director: Tess Biles.

2014-10-28 13:22:47

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