REVIEW: Around The World In 80 Days, Tilted Wig/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal, today, 2.30pm, 7.30pm ****

Ride on time: Alex Phelps’s Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days. Picture: Anthony Robling

THE circus will leave town after a three-day home run concludes with today’s two performances, ahead of a nationwide tour until July 22 in Tilted Wig’s collaboration with York Theatre Royal.

Creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel was first staged on the school playing fields of York in the socially distanced summer of 2021, big-topped off by a finale back indoors at the Theatre Royal.

After rehearsals on Sara Perks’s fabulous travelling set in the Studio, the striped flags and organ music of Vernes Circus have taken up temporary residence in the main house with a multi-disciplined cast of five tasked with playing circus performers in turn playing a minimum of two of Verne’s characters each.

In prickly English Victorian gent Phileas Fogg’s wager with his stuffy Reform Club cronies that he can traverse the globe in 80 days, Forster wastes no time in pricking the balloon that Fogg travelled in such a form of transportation. In screen versions, yes; in the Frenchman’s novel, no. Besides, budget constraints rule it out, decrees Alex Phelps’s punctilious Ringmaster.

The imagination, however, needs no budget, and so, just as in Patrick Barlow’s parody re-creation of John Buchan’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of The 39 Steps, Forster’s cast must apply physical theatre panache, dextrous elasticity, props and even costume to convey anything from an elephant to a train and a trading vessel in often unexpected ways.

Calling on the stone-faced grace of Buster Keaton, Phelps’s immaculate, unflustered, tea-drinking, not-always-scrupulous Fogg/immaculate/flustered Ringmaster seeks to control proceedings with the help/hindrance of Wilson Benedito’s Clown/servant Passepartout.

Weaving their way into the fast-moving, helter-skelter story are Genevieve Sabherwal’s Trick Rider/Indian princess Aouda, Katriona Brown’s whip-cracking Acrobat/Nellie Bly and returning 2021 cast member Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower/spiv Detective Fox. From assorted accents to assorted circus skills, they reveal a restless, constantly changing repertoire of theatrical alacrity with relish.

As the revolving signage announces each new destination, so everything could be in too much of a rush. Except that Forster runs the parallel story of ground-breaking American journalist Nellie Bly’s real-life race around the world, related by Brown’s Bly in elegant travelogue prose that benefits the production with its change of pace, all the while amusingly winding up Phelps’s Fogg.

Favourite scenes? The slow-motion bridge collapse denoted by ladders and the heavy-drinking tussle between Mann’s Fix and Benedito’s Passepartout on a see-saw, where everything is in the balance.

As you would want, Forster’s second act surpasses the first, the company’s teamwork becoming ever funnier, their flamboyant, fun circus acrobatics stacking up, with high praise for Asha Jennings-Grant’s movement direction and Edwin Gray’s sound design too. Perks’s designs and costumes delight throughout.

Just as York Theatre Royal’s The Railway Children took off for London and Toronto success, Tilted Wig must be thanked for giving new air to Forster’s Around The World In 80 Days, now travelling around the country for 171 days. Fans of Mischief’s mischief-making, calamitous comedies will love it.

York box office: 01904 623568 or The tour visits Cast, Doncaster, from July 5 to 8; Age guidance: five plus.

York Theatre Royal teams up with Tilted Wig for second Around The World In 80 Days travels, this time going nationwide

The cast for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

TILTED Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days from February 2 to July 22 2023. Rehearsals will begin in York next Monday.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story first toured all four corners of York in August 23 days in 2021, not in a hot-air balloon, but on a trailer, whose sides could be dropped down for the set to be built around, in the tradition of travelling players going from town to town.

Forster’s circus-themed production played four York playing fields – Carr Junior School, Copmanthorpe Primary School, Archbishop Holgate’s School and Joseph Rowntree School – followed by a last stop, back indoors, at the Theatre Royal, where Tilted Wig’s new tour of England, Scotland and Wales will open from February 2 to 4.

In Forster’s version, Verne’s original characters are transformed, embracing different modes of transport in the frantic race to travel around the world in 80 Days. Original cast member Eddie Mann will be joined by Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal, who each multi-role as the rag-tag band of travelling circus performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s journey.

Eddie Mann: Returning to the roles of the Knife Thrower and Detective Fix

Phelps will play the determined Ringmaster and Fogg, having appeared in As You Like It for Shakespeare’s Globe/CBeebies, When Darkness Falls for Park Theatre and Hamlet for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Actor and puppeteer Brown will be the Acrobat and Nellie Bly; Sabherwal, the Trick Rider and Aouda; Wilson Benedito, the Clown and Passepartout, and New Zealander Mann, the sharp-witted Knife Thrower and Detective Fix.

Writer-director Forster said in 2021: ““There was a risk that a show would have a stuffy gentlemen’s club, outdated feel to it because it’s a male-dominated story, so I thought, ‘how do we make it a play for today?’. That’s when I decided to put Nellie Bly’s story in there too.”

For the uninitiated, Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, an American journalist, industrialist, inventor and charity worker, who made her own record-breaking trip around the world – and did so with more alacrity than the fictional Fogg.

The original York Theatre Royal cast for Around The World In 80 Days in August 2021, including Eddie Mann, centre. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“I read her book about going around the world: a beautiful piece of travel journalism with such lovely detail, and I thought, ‘maybe we should just do her story’, but then I decided, ‘no, let’s look at finding a form for a play that fits bit both stories in’,” Juliet said.

Move forward to 2023’s revival, and the director says: “I was amazed that we generally know more about Jules Verne’s fictional characters than we do about Nellie Bly. I knew I had to tell her story. I found that this approach allowed interesting themes to emerge around whose stories get told, whose stories dominate and who should stand aside to give space to the untold ones.”

Tour producer Tilted Wig Productions was formed in 2017 by Katherine Senior and Matthew Parish, who have more than 15 years of experience producing and touring plays throughout the UK, taking 20-plus productions on the road, such as Philip Meeks’s Murder, Margaret, and Me, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster: Writer-director of Around The World In 80 Days

“Our shows now tour around some of the biggest theatres in the UK, yet our original ethos has always remained the same: whether Titled Wig are producing a classic play or a vibrant new adaptation, we always aim to inspire a bright and innovative creative team to take our stories UK-wide,” they say.

Juliet is joined in the production team by set designer Sara Perks; lighting designer Alexandra Stafford; composer and sound designer Ed Gray; movement director Asha Jennings-Grant and fight director Jonathan Holby.

Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal present Around The World In 80 Days at York Theatre Royal on February 2, 2pm and 7.30pm, February 3, 7.30pm, and February 4, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Also: Cast, Doncaster, July 5 to 8; Age guidance: seven plus.

The tour poster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s Around The World In 80 Days

UPDATE 9/1/2023

REHEARSALS have begun today for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal’s six-month tour of Around The World In 80 Days.

Gathering for the first time were Wilson Benedito, left, Katrina Brown, Genevieve Sabherwal and Alex Phelps. Missing was fifth cast member memberEddie Mann, who will join rehearsals later. Picture by Anthony Robling.