Audiences at Cambridge Junction last night were treated to an adventure of epic proportions in Around the World in 80 Days, New International Encounter (NIE)’s captivating new Christmas show.
Running until 4 January, this warm and witty family show follows dashing Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg and his manservant Passepartout on an action-packed voyage across Europe, India, China, Japan and America in a bid to win a bet. Together they commandeer elephants, battle Native Americans and rescue an Indian princess, with the police hot on their heels all the while…
Martin Bonger cuts a splendid figure as Fogg, all top hats, tails and steady charm: a pillar of English calm to Stefanie Mueller’s frantic Frenchman, Passepartout – a winning comedy sidekick with a fabulous moustache. The humour, for me, is pitched just right: smart, sometimes silly and self-aware, with a hint of Buster Keaton at times. And it works for all ages.
Better still, the show is never patronising, and all throughout there’s a sense of echoing the way in which children themselves play and tell stories, and of we, the audience, being invited into the actors’ imaginary world. At one point, a jungle trek takes the cast right into the audience, clambering over seats and pointing out youngsters with cries of ‘Oh look! A little monkey!’ – a chaos which sends up shrieks of delight.
Each scene is brought to life using creative and immersive staging techniques, versatile props and costumes. The screen that serves as the backdrop to Fogg’s London club easily morphs into train carriages then folds down to become a ship, and the on-stage piano becomes an elephant (with noisy tuba for a trunk). The cast double as musicians, giving a fluid, organic feel to the show, and it’s clear they’re having as much fun as the audience.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the arrival of the hot air balloon – a delicate and wondrous little object which sails in from over our heads as if by magic.
Though not hugely Christmassy, save for one short-lived flurry of feathery snow, Around the World in 80 Days is undoubtedly a wonderful family show from the makers of 2011’s Hansel and Gretel. If the gaudy razzle-dazzle of panto isn’t for you, this earthy, creative, imaginative romp across the Empire of old may well be.
:: Cambridge Junction, until 4 January; £10/£14; various times.
We love the trailer too – have a watch here: