In Around the World in 80 Days, the English gentleman Phineas Fogg has a wager with the men of the Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. Accompanied by his French valet, Passepartout, they stumble across strange characters along their travels, while pursued by a Scotland Yard detective who suspects Fogg of bank robbery. The gardens of St John’s College were the perfect venue for this mad-cap and rather eccentric romp through the Victorian world, performed with grace and considerable gusto by the OUDS cast. The humour was fun, clean and clever, with the right balance of slapstick, wordplay, innuendo and audience interaction to keep the comedy fresh and entertaining.
One of the things that brought the show to life was the absence of a fourth wall of any kind, whether it was the bandits trying to ambush our heroes while stalking through the audience, or Detective Fix’s constant asides to the audience (played by a perfectly whiny Luke Rollasson). This was accentuated by the set design and staging itself. At the back was a wooden semi-circle of a clock, which the cast would stand front in front of, their backs turned when not in the scene. On either side of the stage were coat stands holding the costumes and props. It gave the set a very bohemian, light-hearted feel, which suited the play itself incredibly well.
The fact that it was in a garden could have been disastrous, being at the mercy of the elements which threatened to dampen the experience. But the troupe managed to use this to their advantage. The gentleman of the Reform Club, already silly in false moustaches and uttering comical huffs and gruffs, were made even more ridiculous by the tufts of grass that their top hats had collected from the lawn.
With such a talented ensemble, the choreographed group scenes such as the travelling by rail, ship or elephant were a joy to watch. Particular praise must be given to Ellie Wade’s outrageous French accent as Passepartout. The cast had such a good chemistry that potential disasters, such as the collapse of a table doubling as an elephant, were turned into some of the highlights of the show, with ad-libs and asides that demonstrated the comedic timing of the cast. Yet in spite of the obvious ability on show, the ending nonetheless felt somewhat rushed. But even this was knowingly referenced by the cast and turned into one of the more sophisticated gags. And anyway, as Mr Fogg would know, the ending is inconsequential; rather, it is the journey along the way which provides the memorable experiences, and Around the World in 80 Days proves that to be the case.