Written by Jules Verne
Adapted by Mark Powell
Directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti
The bonnie banks of the Tummel, to the scorching sun of Egypt, and across the globe to the blistering winds of the Wild West. Jules Verne’s stamp on science fiction and fantasy ripples through adaptation and inspiration. And turning their outdoor space on the shores of the river, Pitlochry Festival Theatre embarks on a grand adventure of their own with Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days.
An ambitious task, traversing the globe in such a small span of time, even more ambitious to confine the story into a digestible 90minutes – and yet, it succeeds. Creativity thrives under Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti; the tethered hot-air balloon with a myriad of global treasures welcome feast and addition for a sense of awe and spectacle. Infusing musical elements, Powell’s adaptation homes in on the fanciful nature for children.
Challenged to globe-trot around from Pitlochry and back, Phineas Fogg goes by land, sea, Elephant, and air to save face for the British Empire under the guidance (and push) of the nation’s ruling monarch after an unlikely wager.
Though one can’t venture into the unknown alone, and under the strict instruction of Rhiane Drummond’s Victoria, Richard Colvin’s Fogg is joined by Blythe Jandoo’s Jean MacDonald, masquerading as the young French boy Passpartout. Playfully upper lip, Colvin’s Fogg ticks all the boxes for the Blighty guidebook but maintains a comedic and personable charm to belay the stuffier persona.
Later joined by the liberated Princess Aouda, played by Nalân Burgess, the companions of Fogg and the characters they encounter are what keep the production lofty and pleasant. Diverse, rich, and often ridiculous, brushes with cultural ideology and mythos are kept to a surface level but often offer individual moments of humour and insight from the performances of Marc Small as ensemble characters.
The musicality of show, with original lyrics and composition from Powell and musical director Richard Colvin, presents itself in a timely manner – with some spiffing solo numbers from Burgess and Jandoo, offering a further dimension to the women who have felt the sole of oppression weighing down in similar, though contextually different manners. But it is the marvellous Jessica Brydge’s Calamity Jane who turns even the cantankerous Fogg into an overjoyed and agreeable man with the deconstruction of gender, class, and labelled boundaries.
But where previous alfresco productions tapped into the natural sounds by the banks of the River, 80 Days seems determined to flitter away much of the surrounding atmosphere with its pre-recorded soundtrack. A minor detail, especially considering the quality of the vocals, but it always strikes as peculiar to possesses a bandstand and lack the live instrumentals to offer a softer compliment to the singing.
Remarkably safe, in sacrificing for younger audiences, Powell’s adaptation leans more into the summer pantomime, than the elements of Verne’s original science fiction and fantastical escapades. Aspects of danger are all but lacking. Understandably the more totalitarian and extreme of Verne’s antagonistic obstacles are void from the production, with the adorably charming duo of Connor Going and James Hudson making a perfect child-friendly foil for our team. But this never allows for a ripple of tension to extend beyond a mere moment or two.
Instead, societal dichotomy is the force to overcome, with Newman and Occhipinti reinforcing the progressive nature of the adaptations’ determination to improving elements of the story, with Fogg leaving each area of the world having learned something, rather than he imparting something to other cultures.
A pleasant globetrotting adventure, Around The World In 80 Days is a good-humoured retelling of Verne’s voyage with a delicate bounce around the great outdoors, brimming with a creative streak. While the perilous aspects of the science fiction novella may lay dormant, what arises from Newman and Occhipinti’s direction is a delightfully kaleidoscopic romp full of song, cheer, and invention.
‘Bouncing Great Adventure’
Around The World In 80 Days runs at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre until September 17th
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Angus Findlay