Adapted from the Jules Verne tale originally published in 1873, Around the World in Eighty Days tells the story of mysterious London aristocrat Phileas Fogg who embarks on a journey with his manservant, Passepartout, to circumnavigate the globe by train and steamer in 80 days as part of a £20,000 wager with other members of the exclusive Reform Club.
Taking its cue from the superior minimalist comedy hit The 39 Steps, Eighty Days is a bare-bones production consisting of four chairs, a card table and a smattering of costumes and props utilized by five actors playing around three dozen roles. It's an impressive number of quick changes. There is also a Foley artist on stage augmenting the production with handmade sound effects a la old radio dramas.
Aside from being hampered by the inconsistent, overly-long and overly-broad 2006 script by Mark Brown, Director Robert Woods has done a decent job casting for the show and nails enough of the big comedy scenes.
Kurt Leftwich has the thankless task of playing the elusive main character Phileas Fogg. Unfortunately, Leftwich is almost too impenetrable as Fogg, giving the impression that some major changes in his character come out of nowhere. Leftwich and his cast mates do succeed in mining the inherent humor of his aloofness with some particularly fun rom-com moments between Leftwich and Jessica Mahon as Aouda, a beautiful damsel in distress that Phileas and his companions save from being sacrificed in India. Mahon brings a low key grace to the underwritten Aouda. She also shows up Fogg’s disgruntled former servant, James Forster.
While the journey depicted in Eighty Days is powered by coal, steam and wind, Jewel Box’s production is powered by Philip Wiles’ overcharged and highly entertaining turn as Fogg’s flamboyant French manservant Passepartout. Sporting a great accent, Wiles throws himself into the role fully, striking just the right balance between bumbling sidekick and hero in his own right, walking away with the audiences affections.
Rich Bailey’s turn as a series of Brits early on in the play run together a bit, but he dominates his later turn as the hilarious gun-toting American stereotype, Proctor, the centerpiece of some of the plays most successful scenes. Scott Doyle is likeable but inconsistent in his primary role of Detective Fix, missing the occasional line and letting his accent drop entirely at times. Both Bailey and Doyle deserve credit for the nearly 25 characters they portray between them during the play.
The sound design, aided by the underused on-stage Foley artist Roger Oxford, do an excellent job of establishing locales and atmosphere throughout the production. This work is further augmented by the physical performance of the cast, creating the effect of the vibrations of a train ride or the rocking of a boat by shaking or swaying in unison. The lighting design lacks some of the finesse of Jewel Box’s last production, Hound of the Baskervilles.
While not a particularly classy or well-constructed adaptation of the Jules Verne story, Jewel Box’s production of Around the World in Eighty Days is an entertaining cliff notes version that makes for a fun evening of family-friendly entertainment.