Around the World in 80 Days ****

There is a distinct difference between children’s and family entertainment.  Children’s entertainment is just that: something geared towards kids.  There may be a few winks and nudges to the adults, just to make the experience more palpable, but the target audience is a set age group.  On the other hand, family entertainment has a general spectrum and is meant to be enjoyed by all.

Cumbernauld Theatre’s production of Around the World in 80 Days in an excellent example of ‘family entertainment’.  It is a very enjoyable experience that has enough wit and intelligence for adults yet contains plenty of buffoonery for younger people; it is also filled with constant creativity that should amuse everyone.

For the uninitiated, 80 Days was written by Jules Verne, arguably one of the world’s greatest creative minds.  The action follows the adventures of English gentleman Phileas Fogg and his faithful manservant Passepartout.  It is 1872 (a fact the cast amusingly get wrong in the beginning), and Fogg wagers a bet at his club that it is possible to circle the world in the titular timeframe.  What follows is an enjoyable adventure as Fogg and Passepartout race against the clock and cultural elements, all the while being chased by Detective Fix, who believes Fogg is actually on the run for robbing the Bank of England.

Artistic director Ed Robson has managed to create a fun-filled production.  The design is simple yet effective, and he has four actors who are game for just about anything.  The cast, Johnny Austin as Fogg, James McAnnerney as Passpartout, Darran Lightbody and Fix and Imogen Toner as the rescued Princess Aouda, are filled with energy and good humour.  We the audience have fun because they are having fun.  Lightbody and Toner may have the more difficult roles by having to play the rather large ensemble of characters, but it is McAnnerney’s comedic timing that gives the production many of its funniest moments.  Austin’s Fogg is also a great creation, a character that could have easily come across as pompous but is instead warm and good-natured.

Is it a perfect production?  No.  Some of the timing seemed a little off in the performance I saw, and there were noticeable lighting problems between moments that were too dark and times when the actors annoyingly stood just outside of a lit spot.  80 Days is also a very large story, and though the production is constantly engaging and cleverly executed, there are times that the grandness is missed.

But no matter; Around the World in 80 Days is still a very good production.  It is both respectful of the original work while being full of creative theatrical moments, and it contains a very solid ensemble performance by its four cast members.  It is certainly more than worthy of a trip to Cumbernauld during this bank holiday.

On a final note, may I just add how nice it is seeing Cumbernauld Theatre back in the business of making original work rather than just being a touring venue.  Here’s hoping this proves successful enough to allow for future productions under their personal banner.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Run ends September 26.

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