Around The World In 80 Days

Lillian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadlers Wells, Sunday 1st July 2007


Review by Emma Shane

© July 2007


A silly, un PC and very very funny musical. Although presented as a simple concert staging with just a pianist (actually the versatile Steve Edis) this was really one of the Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM’s more ambitious projects. The original production had been quite a grandiose entertainment involving all sorts of things, including silent screen footage. Hence why it has taken until now for the unstoppable Ian Marshall-Fisher to find a way of staging it. In place of the silent screen footage, we get – (who in the rest of the show is playing Inspector Fix (Orson Wells’s own role in the original) narrates a description, constructed (from Orson Wells’s notes) by the late Dick Vosburgh, of what the silent screen footage at each point contains.


As with any Lost Musicals production, its always going to be interesting to see just what this talented crowd come up with. I felt sure with Peter Gale in the cast (as Phileas Fogg himself) it ought to be good, but I was concerned that a distinct lack of major stalwarts might hold the production back, fortunately it turned out, this was not the case.


As unusual the performance started with an introduction from Producer/Director Ian Marshall-Fisher’s introduction, and a guest speaker, Betsy Blair, to talk about her experiences of meeting Orson Wells. The show proper starts with Jack Klaff as Wells narrating about a spate of bank robberies, prompting Phileas Fogg to withdraw is entire fortune and guard it himself. A combination of narration and live action miming has Fogg withdraw his money, a robber coming in and robbing the bank. Inspector Fix mistaking Fogg for the robber, and sending his men (played by Richard Stemp and Peter Kenworthy) to try and apprehend the man. Meanwhile narration tells of the robber, in Hyde Park, hiding some of the money in a baby carriage, and being rather rough with the girl, Molly Muggins, looking after it. She is rescued by an American sailor, of French extraction, Pat Passepartout, an engaging performance from Bryan Torfeh. The pair fall instantly in love, Look What I Have Found. At which point we find some excellent performances from Bryan Torfeh and Valda Avicks. The latter plays her part well, with a good Irish accent.


Pat having missed his ship, needs a job, so Molly suggests he becomes Phileas Fogg’s Gentleman’s Gentleman. Fogg is very punctual, and doesn’t like women, so Molly has to hide, leaving Pat to introduce himself. Fogg immediately knows (without being told) that Pat is his new Valet; and explains in song (and dance) what his duties will be, There He Goes Mr Phileas Fogg. This is, as one would expect, a superbly sung number, by Peter Gale and company. It is also the catchiest song in the entire score (the one the audience can’t help walking out of the theatre humming). However, the really surprising thing about it is just how gracefully Peter Gale moves. Bryan Torfeh (who is younger) did his best to try and follow him. But the way Peter Gale moves about the stage is just beautiful to watch. He conveys in mime just exactly what a perfect gentleman his character is. I wonder where on earth he trained? It may have been many years ago, but he must surely have had a good dance training (very probably ballet) to move like that!


Fogg goes off to the Whist Club, where he meets his banker, Jervity, and friends Runcible and Cruett-Spew, played by Michael Roberts, Richard Stemp, and, Peter Kenworthy. Jervity asks if Fogg has had any trouble from the police, but so far he hasn’t. The four of them get to discussing how thanks to modern transport (in those days that was Railways and Steamships), it might (or might not) now be possible to travel around the world in 80 days. This result in Fogg betting that he can. Back at his flat Fogg gets his man to pack, light, and the set off. Just as they do, the police enter, and in the general confusion Pat leaves the gas on. They have quite a rush a Charing Cross to catch the train, where Pat finally tells about the gas. Fogg replies in that case the gas will burn for eighty days “at your expense”.


At The British Consulate At Suez Dock (this is some time later), Inspector Fix is trying to enlist the help of two Arab Spies (Peter Kenworthy and Michael Roberts), and the British Consul (Richard Stemp) to help him waylay Fogg, until he can get a warrant telegraphed  through to arrest him. The Consul, however, plays strictly by the book, so Fogg and Pat are not waylaid. Thus Fix has to continue to tail the pair.

Somewhere in the depths of India, they are informed by a Train Conductor (Michael Roberts), that they railway line hasn’t actually finished being built, thus the train stops here and they must continue by another mode to pick up the line again. Eventually Fogg manages to purchase an elephant, so Fogg, Pat, and, Fix (in some sort of disguise) continue their journey, with Fix trying to make them detour. This has some very interesting results. 

Through An Indian Forrest, Valda Avicks takes centre stage leading almost the entire company (well all six men) with the song Missus Aouda. A number which is largely about the Hindu practice of Sati (sometimes written suttee) – I told you this was a very un-pc musical. Being an English Gentleman Fogg decides to rescue Mrs Aouda. The rescue itself being covered by the narration. The actors themselves enter a scene coughing, having escaped the smoke of the pyre. Until now, while Valerie Cutko had joined in with the ensemble pieces, she had not played a character of her own. Now it’s her turn. In a brilliant costume supplied by Behroze Gandhy, she looks pretty great. And she delivers an acting performance to match.

Fix and an accomplice have sneaked off with the elephant, so Fogg and Pat, along with Mrs Aouda have to walk, through the Indian Forest. Fogg decides, for the benefit of the lady, they ought to make camp, though she begs them to leave her as she is holding them up, but Fogg won’t leave a damsel in distress. He makes it clear that he has no interest in her, he just wants to do his duty by helping, that is all. However, as she explains, first to Pat and then alone on the stage in song, she is attracted to Fogg, Should I Tell You That I Love You. This is a nice sweet Cole Porter song, and Valerie Cutko performs it nicely.

In Hong Kong, Fix in another disguise, tells Fogg that because a storm is brewing the ship he is booked on won’t be sailing, and he should get himself indoors and stay there. However, Fogg has first to round up his little party. He soon finds Mrs Aouda, but Pat, well... Who should turn up in Hong Kong, but Molly, looking for her beloved! Fix manages to get Pat drugged in an Opium Den, Pipe Dreaming. During the course of this, Pat realises it is Fix who has been following them, but thinks he is a member of The Whist Club, trying to nobble the bet. At this point Molly walks past. Pat thinks he is seeing things, and realises he is high, and had better try and get out of the opium den. Meanwhile Steve Edis uses a trombone to represent the sound of a ship’s horn. Pat comes to his senses according to the programme the next scene is in Japan, in a circus, I rather got the impression it was on a boat heading to Japan. A Circus Owner (Michael Roberts) offers him a job as a clown. Since he doesn’t know where Fogg is, he accepts. Fortunately Fogg happens to watch the circus and finds him, thus they can continue their journey. They missed the boat for America, but (having realised there wasn’t a storm) caught one a few hours later for Japan.

The finale scene of the act finds Fogg and Pat Aboard The SS General Grant – bound for America, having left Mrs Aouda with her relatives in Japan. Fogg goes into his cabin, Pat hears a noise, at first he thinks it’s Fix (who he still thinks is a member of the Whist Club). But in fact it’s Mrs Aouda, who has smuggled herself aboard. She is determined to become part of Fogg’s life, and reprises her song Should I Tell You I Love You. Pat encourages her to go and reveal her presence to Fogg that night. He won’t like it, but it would surely be better to have it out now, rather than waiting until morning. Thus the first act ends, unusually for a musical with the principal romantic couple reunited rather than separated (as is usually the case), even if in this instance one half isn’t yet in love with the other; however, one begins to suspect where that element of the story will end.


The second act opens at Lola’s Place – A waterfront hostelry somewhere on the coast of California, with the company singing Sea Shanty. Molly encounters Lola, played by Michael Roberts, and pours out her problems, If You Look At Me. The song is actually a duet, I wasn’t quite sure if Lola was originally played by a man in drag, or not. And I wasn’t sure it worked having the part played by a man. However, Michael Roberts is clearly talented and he did perform it well. I just wasn’t quite sure if this was exactly what the writers intended (but sometimes the Lost Musicals interpretations of characters can be a little bit different to original intentions – who could forget James Vaughan’s very funny French Ambassador in Of Thee I Sing). Molly goes on her way to continue her search, just missing the others. At a Table In front Of Lola’s Place, Fogg, Pat and Mrs Aouda encounter Fix, now disguised as a loud mouthed easily offended Southern Gentleman. Actually it should be pointed out that this musical makes fun of just about everybody, no matter what their race or creed. Fix’s Southern Gentleman disguise is clearly meant to make fun of loud-mouthed Americans.

Narration covers a scene back in London, where the bank robber enters Fogg’s flat (trying to retrieve his loot) and lighting a match becomes the victim of a gas explosion.

Onboard a Train the Southern Gentleman is still arguing with Fogg, Mrs Aouda occupied herself with her sewing (possibly embroidery), I noted she is right-handed. This is only the second time I can recall someone miming sewing in a Lost Musical (so of course it made me think of the other occasion, in One Touch of Venus). The Company give us Snag Tooth Gertie, which as a song manages to be remarkably unmemorable, for Cole Porter. The Train is scheduled to make a stop at “Wild Plum Creek” (a name which put me in mind of the writings of those pioneering American writers Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane). Fogg and Fix had agreed to a duel, but the train doesn’t stop long enough because it is running late. However, it’s time for another unintentional Lost Musicals Production Irony, a swollen river has swept the Bridge away. The Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM have a habit of managing to put on shows with moments of usually unintended contemporary irony. Things like mounting: Strike Up The Band at the same time President Clinton was impeached (the show has some lovely lines about The President having other things to worry about), Gay Divorce during a petrol-crisis (it happens to include a song about a couple becoming wealthy via oil), Red Hot And Blue around the time the National Lottery was launched (it’s main plot involves running a lottery), and not forgetting I’d Rather Be Right in the week the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was a victim of aerial warfare (the show has a scene involving a munitions manufacturer in it), amongst others. This time the irony is the heavy rainfall in Shropshire, which actually has swept away parts of the Severn Valley Railway’s track-bed. Anyway, in this show, being the sort of musical it is, Fogg bribes the train crew to drive over an unsafe bridge, they just getaway with it. Then Fogg and Fix go to fight their duel, but the pistols are empty, Mrs Aouda emptied them as she didn’t want anyone getting hurt. Then they are attacked by Red Indians, wanting someone to sacrifice to a Eagle. Mrs Aouda volunteers, but Fogg insists on being the one, Wherever They Fly The Flag Of Old England. Peter Gale sings this un-PC number exceedingly well, making it one of the highlights of his performance. Valerie Cutko actually displays a surprisingly good command of the stage, as Mrs Aouda persuades the Train Crew to take the train to the nearest army base to get help. The Marines (Americans seem to like their Marines) come to the rescue dealing with the Redskins at The Peak Of Bald Mountain. At that moment the Eagle swoops and picks up Fogg. The Marine Captain (Peter Kenworthy) goes to shoot it down, but a concerned Mrs Aouda cries out “No, you’ll hit Mr Fogg, I’ll do it”, snatches the gun from him (a nice piece of miming) and fires. Mr Fogg lands safely, and someone makes a remark about “... and women still don’t have the vote”. The narration covered Molly’s arrival ‘Somewhere In The Frozen Plains Of The West’ on a snowmobile. How vivacious Valda Avicks looks at Molly’s joyful reunion with Pat, reprising Look What I Have Found.

In The Port Of New York our four heroes look for a fast boat to Britain. They find Welsh cargo boat owner, Speedy, played by Michael Roberts. Although he played the character, some elements of his characterisation left a lot to be desired. He read the line about his character coming fromCardiffas if he had only just read the line. While his attempt at a Welsh accent was so bad, it made fabled puppeteer Louise Gold’s efforts at a Welsh accent (in Jim Henson’s The Secret Life Of Toys) sound good!

Aboard The SS Henrietta, Fogg ends up purchasing the boat, the sacrifice it’s decks when they run out of coal. Arriving in Liverpool, with little time to spare, Fix finally manages to arrest Fogg. Having lost the bet he faces financial ruin, yet he asks to settle what little is left of Mrs Aouda. She visits him in his cell, and once more declares her love for him Should I Tell You I Love You, and amazingly he agrees to marry her. Pat sent to find someone to perform the ceremony, discovers it is Sunday not Monday. By travelling facing the sun they had gained an extra day. Fix, finally corrected turns up to say it’s all been a mistake. The four heroes are pretty cross with him for all the incidents where his mistaken pursuit of Fogg cost them time. Meanwhile Jevity, Runcible, and Cruett-Spew assemble at the Whist Club, convinced they’ve won the bet. In A Hansom Cab the quartet hurry to try and get there on time. Just as the Whist Club members are about to celebrate their victory, in walks Fogg “I’m here”. So we come to a happy ending. Fogg won his bet, his fortune is restored; he even wins himself a mate. Pat gets Molly, and Fix knows he made a mistake.


Overall a good fun light-hearted musical; though perhaps not for those of a sensitive disposition. Once again Ian Marshall-Fisher, aided and abetted by the late Dick Vosburgh, has achieved an impossible concert staging. Maybe the shear difficultly of mounting this lavish piece meant the Lost Musicals haven’t attempted it until now, but given it’s un-pc nature perhaps it is just as well they didn’t try it until now. Would it really have been acceptable at The Barbican? Probably not (Barbican productions are so careful not to offend people). There are some Lost Musicals which can be done to a much wider audience. I felt that this one, while very funny, was very much one for the musical theatre connoisseur.

The small cast managed surprisingly well. Although I thought they could have done with one more girl in the cast to fill the minor female characters (perhaps Myra Sands or Gay Soper, or perhaps one of the less well known girls who’ve been in the group). I am not keen on the men having to play women. Nevertheless the two men who did played their parts perfectly well, and with much hilarity. Peter Kenworthy in four named roles and Richard Stemp in seven named roles both provide an amazing supporting cast. They are both simply terrific, the one who played the telegraph operator was particularly good, but they made a fine team. Michael Roberts, in what must be a record eight roles was also generally good, apart from the Welsh accent. Jack Klaff manages to present such an unpleasant character I’m almost surprised he wasn’t booed at the end. A convincing character? well in so far as anything in this rather ridiculous story could be. He switches easily and cleanly between accents. Initially I had my doubts as to how good the two women would be. I was pleasantly surprised at just what a good job they actually did. Which just goes to show how important it is to cast performers in roles which suit their talents. A good actor may be able to do something with a role for which they are not well suited. But it is usually better to cast them in roles which suit their talents. There are performers (such as Jessica Martin, and in fact Peter Gale) who play Leads or supporting principals equally well. There are some performers (such as Louise Gold, and Louise Plowright is another) who are best suited to playing leads, or at least major supporting roles and when stuck in minor supporting roles tend to be rather wasted, to say the least and do not perform so well in such roles. But there are also performers (such as Valerie Cutko, Nicola Fuljames, and quite possibly Myra Sands) who while they can “do the job” as a lead, are generally better suited to being supporting principals, where they don’t have the responsibility of carrying the show. In this afternoon’s Lost Musical Valerie Cutko gives the best performance I have seen from her to date. The role suits her perfectly, and so does the costume (she really looked good in it). Hitherto watching her performances in Lost Musicals, I’ve found myself thinking “Yes she’s ok, but there are other people who could do this better”. This afternoon that was most definitely not the case. Her performance was as spot on as Mrs Aouda’s shooting of the eagle. Valda Avicks is another performer I’ve not been too impressed with before. Yet this afternoon she too scored a triumph, bringing to her part a vivacity I had not seen her portray before. It was lovely to watch. The stars of this show, the performers on whose shoulders it rests are of course Phileas Fogg and Pat Passepartout. I had seen Bryan Torfeh before in the Lost Musicals, and knew his work to be good. This afternoon he excelled himself, engaging the audience’s sympathies and letting us see much of the journey thought his eyes. As for our leading man himself. Well Peter Gale was as brilliant and terrific as one would expect. As a strong Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM lead he is up there with the very best of them: Louise Gold, Henry Goodman, and, Jessica Martin. The kind of Lead who can put a show across no matter who their supporting cast is. In fact this afternoon his supporting cast backed him very well. All in all despite the fact that this show did not have any of The Lost Musicals five major stalwarts, it nevertheless managed to come up to the kind of standards expected by these shows. Good fun very well performed entertainment. A triumph of good acting and ingenuity.




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