The Jules Verne classic novel, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ is so well known that it’s only after reading the title of this new show multiple times you eventually realise something isn’t quite as expected. The addition of what appears at first glance to be a rogue ‘s’ is most certainly deliberate. Although the story is set in the 1880’s, this version, written and directed by Ian McFarlane, is a fast-paced family comedy with a soundtrack straight from the 1980’s.
The two central characters of the original story remain in Phileas Fogg and his French valet, Passepartout, who lost his last circus job as a human cannonball when he was fired. When Fogg’s father decides to stop paying for his extravagant lifestyle, Fogg chooses to take a £25,000 wager he can circumnavigate the globe and return to member’s only Reform Club within an 80 day deadline.
So far, so familiar, but this Fogg, coolly performed by the impressively affable, Andrew Bentley, would rather be called Phil and prefers to sing ‘Eye of the Tiger’, persuading the audience to help him get into the Reform Club by reciting the words and actions to Black Lace’s ‘Superman’.
Bentley leads the six strong cast through various escapades with laughs coming faster than the numerous references to 1980’s pop-culture – from video games to Rubik’s cubes. Even without the music, the Material Girl video pastiche is immediately recognisable because it’s so well observed and executed.
Justina Kehinde is certainly one to watch out for in future given her polished professional debut as Akilah, the Indiana Jones styled archaeologist who accompanies Phil and Passepartout (Oliver Mawdsley) on their travels. Bentley and Mawdsley’s physical comedy is a hit with the audience and reaches a peak when they dance to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ with two mannequins.
More comedy gold is provided by Daniel Cane playing Akilah’s former lecturer and current nemesis Professor Gold performing his eponymous Spandau Ballet classic into a handheld mirror. He is almost upstaged however by Christine Meehan’s glittering comic-timing.
The show has the pacing and laugh count of a top-notch pantomime, performed by an enthusiastic and talented cast who embrace the fun pop element of the decade (even if none of them are old enough to have lived through it). This is a rare gem of a show, suitable for all ages, that leaves everyone laughing, smiling, singing and dancing.★ ★ ★ ★
Around the World in 80s Days is at The Grand Theatre, Blackpool from 8-31 August 2019.