The plot of Jules Verne’s 1872 novel is well known. Phileas Fogg, a gentleman of clockwork-precise habits, wagers his fortune that he will journey around the world in 80 days. “Impossible!” cry the cronies at his club. Accompanied by his valet, Passepartout, Fogg sets off to prove his point. Time is of the essence.
However, in spite of the chivvying effect of a metronome-governed soundtrack (Benjamin Hudson and Anna Wheatley), this new production from Hull Truck Theatre and Theatre By the Lake, directed by Hal Chambers, sets off at pace rather more stately than hasty. The first half transports us from Europe, across Asia, via a sequence of stage pictures. These are created, in typical physical theatre style, through clever combinations of actor movement (under Jess Williams’s direction) and manipulation of a minimal set (designed by Louie Whitemore, lit by Chuma Emembolu). Games of visual synecdoche prompt the audience to imagine a whole from a well-chosen part (a life ring attached to a section of railing conjures a ship; a wooden chair with luggage rack, a train). Puppetry (under Naomi Oppenheim) adds atmosphere – the elephant on which Fogg rescues Mrs Aouda from certain death is captivating.
What’s missing is a sense of urgency. Stefan Adegbola’s Fogg meets calamities with a sang so froid it’s almost glacial. Miriam O’Brien’s Passepartout, although engagingly ditzy, lacks the level of chaotic energy necessary to counterpoint him. It feels more like a Cook’s tour than a race against the clock.
The second half picks up. Partly because there is more action (a circus; a hold-up; a kidnap, chase, rescue), but mostly because Laura Eason’s script finally allows space for interaction among the characters (eight actors in multiple roles). Fogg, under the influence of Aouda (Saba Shiraz), begins to thaw. Passepartout destabilises the equilibrium of the doggedly determined Inspector Fix (Dyfrig Morris). Even the click-clack soundtrack makes play with melody. A slow start ticks over to a fun finish.
At Hull Truck theatre until 20 May
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