When one thinks of the Jules Verne classic, 'Around The World In 80 Days', if you are of a certain generation, then your mind is automatically drawn to the iconic image of David Niven in a hot air balloon; and even the poster advertising Todmorden Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society's latest production of the play, shows a hot air balloon; and yet, as the script in this evening's production so rightly points out, Verne's Fogg never did travel by such means.
The beautiful Hippodrome theatre in the centre of Todmorden, and dare I say, the jewel in the town's crown, was set for an epic adventure this evening. The staging was clever; three distinct areas separated by walkways and staircases were used at first as Fogg's residence, the street, and the Reform Club, but as the play progressed these morphed into all the other locations of this circumnavigatory journey. Some settings worked much better than others, while others needed a little extra something (either flown in or brought in from the wings) to ameliorate the location and aid our understanding. Further, a large world map was omnipresent to the rear of the stage, and as the intrepid travellers progressed, their journey was marked on the map too.
The performance this evening started with a whimper not with a bang, and the repetitious nature of the first scene meant that it was rather difficult for the cast to sustain our interest, however, once Joe Marsden's energetic Passepartout entered the dynamics lifted and the pace became swifter. Another gear change in the upwards direction came in the form of Janet Spooner's portrayal of the conceited Inspector Fix.
This is a very ambitious production for any society to tackle, and much creativity is needed on the part of designers and director in order for the story to be slick but still carry any weight, especially when the script (as was the case here) is so obviously high comedy, nay slapstick, in many places. However, credit must be given to the "elephant" which was ingeniously and comedically resolved with style.
The main four protagonists Phileas Fogg (James Young), Passepartout (Joe Marsden), Inspector Fix (Janet Spooner), and Mrs. Aouda (Cery Garnett), were aided throughout by an ensemble team of 5 other performers who took on all the other cameo roles and filled the stage with tumbling, caricatures, and slapstick as necessary. These were Hamish Heald, Bethany Vakulich, Rosie Hosdon, Jennie Bailey, and Sam Cresswell. Again, some of their antics worked better than others, but the energy levels of the whole cast, who put their hearts and souls into this show, and their commitment to deliver an entertaining and enjoyable romp, was undeniable.
Favourite moments for me included, the elephant (of course), the train carriage fight en route through central America (nicely done!), and the beautifully sung and harmonised sea shanty.
Microphone issues notwithstanding, the show was well received this evening, and we all cheered when Fogg finally turned up on the last chime of the clock to claim his reward for winning the wager!
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 1.12.22