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
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
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
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
The finale scene of the act finds Fogg and Pat Aboard The SS General Grant – bound for
The second act opens at Lola’s
Place – A waterfront hostelry somewhere on the coast of
Narration covers a scene back in
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
In The Port Of New York our
four heroes look for a fast boat to
Aboard The SS Henrietta, Fogg
ends up purchasing the boat, the sacrifice it’s decks when they run out of coal.
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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