REVIEW: York Theatre Royal in Around The World In 80 Days, Copmanthorpe Primary School Playing Fields, York
NO foreign holiday this summer? Let York Theatre Royal take you there, off the back of a trailer at a school playing field, transformed into a circus.
Wednesday, 7pm, Copmanthorpe Primary School: the yellow and red striped flags are fluttering in the night air in a circular formation to denote Vernes Circus is in town. Bobbing balloons and the persistently perky sound of a fairground organ add to the atmosphere.
Rather than inside a pop-up big top, we are in the open air, wrapped up for the English weather (last Friday evening’s show at Carr Junior School had to be called off after a thunderstorm warning). Safety first too, everyone is still mindful of social distancing, maintaining gaps between fold-up chairs.
Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster has form for such theatrical enterprises, rolling out last winter’s Travelling Pantomime to 16 city wards. A case of taking theatre to the people, rather than expecting them to take themselves to the Theatre Royal, although this summer’s production will end with four days of indoor shows there after going around four York schools in 16 days.
She also repeats the panto template of a cast of five with multiple talents, while this time adding the writer’s credit to her directorial duties, just as she did when adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for CBeebies earlier this year.
We think we know French novelist Jules Verne’s story of a somewhat prickly English Victorian gentleman, Phileas Fogg, going around the globe in a hot air balloon. Stop right there. No sooner has Ali Azhar’s Clown started to blow up a balloon than he is told no such form of transportation was used by Fogg in the book; only in the myriad screen adaptations.
Financial constraints would prevent any balloon rides here, cautions Emilio Iannucci’s snappy Ringmaster.
Clown? Ringmaster? Surely, they were not in Verne’s story either? Indeed not, but Forster frames her adaptation around circus performers telling the tale, all her company taking on two main roles and more besides.
To complement the upstanding, moustachioed Iannucci’s Ringmaster/Fogg and French-Moroccan Azhar’s Clown/servant Passepartout, here come Ulrika Krishnamurti’s Trick Rider/Indian princess Aouda, New Zealander Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower/spiv Detective Fox and Dora Rubinstein’s Acrobat/Nellie Bly.
Mann will work his way through London, Liverpool, Scottish and American Deep South accents; the ultra-flexible Rubinstein, through Geordie, refined American, English South West and, a particular favourite, Hull, for a blunt sea captain.
Up against the clock, everything moves at pace, whether scene or character changes, storyline or the revolving signage that denotes arrival at the next destination.
Hold that thought. Not quite everything moves so quickly. Fogg is always in too much of a rush to bother with describing where he is, but Nellie Bly is a groundbreaking American journalist whose travelogues are a joy to behold whenever Rubinstein’s resolute character settles for a restorative breather in a brilliant directorial decision by Forster .
Unlike Verne’s Fogg and his wager with his Reform Club cronies, Bly is not mere fiction. She really did traverse the world in a flight that knocked days off Fogg’s total, and yet her history-making story is not well known. Forster puts that right, interweaving the tales in a way that both compliments and complements each other.
Forster’s production brings to mind the elasticity and stage electricity, the physical and mental fun and games, the deftness and daftness, of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Mischief’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Like those two West End hits, the more the show the progresses, the better it is, the more impressive the cast becomes, using props in unexpected ways, whether straw bales or bicycle wheels, or circus equipment that turns into a cell for Fogg.
One heavy-drinking scene with Mann’s Fix and Azhar’s Passepartout trying to balance but constantly on the move on a seesaw will live long in the memory.
Not only Forster and her livewire, fun, funny international company are on top form here: so too are Sara Perks’s evocative circus set and dapper costume designs; Asha Jennings-Grant’s dashing movement direction, circus acrobatics and smart choreography, and Ed Gray’s music and especially his 360-degree sound design that adds spectacularly to the rip-roaring drama.
Still haven’t the Foggiest idea of what family show to see this summer? This is the one. Roll up! Roll up!
Tickets can be booked on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Suitable for age seven upwards.
Around The World In 80 Days performances still to come:
Copmanthorpe Primary School, tonight, 7pm.
Archbishop Holgate’s School, August 14, 7pm; August 15, 2pm and 6pm; Aug 16, 3pm and 7pm.
Joseph Rowntree School, August 18, 7pm; August 19, 3pm and 7pm; August 20, 7pm; August 21, 2pm and 6pm.
York Theatre Royal, August 25 to 28, 2pm and 7pm. Signed performance: August 26, 2pm.