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Muddy reviews: Around the World in 80 Days, The Brewhouse

It was Around the Levels in 20 minutes to get to Around the World in 80 Days at The Brewhouse in Taunton on Saturday. We very nearly didn’t make it but I’m so glad we did. The very first in-house Christmas production since the theatre re-opened under new management in 2014 is awesome:  fast-paced, inventive, with standout performances, Victorian inspired sets and steam punk costumes. It’s warmhearted, full of surprizes – and genuinely funny.

The show’s based on the novel by Jules Verne. Phileas Fogg has bet his entire fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days and be back by 9pm on Christmas Day – and he’s just about to depart from Greenwich with his timetables and his faithful French valet Passepartout. He’s not the only one placing a bet: baddie Captain James Fix has put his money on Fogg to fail and even Queen Victoria has had a flutter. Things aren’t going to go smoothly….

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All photos: Tina Downham Photography

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Ross Barnes is well cast as Phileas Fogg, the stiff upper lip who would much prefer to have a cup of Earl Grey in his hotel rather than explore or mix with ‘the natives’.  Tom Babbage is excellent as the youthful and exuberant Passepartout (and has more than a passing resemblance to Orlando Bloom).  Difficult to believe that Samantha Harper as the Indian Princess Auoda has only just graduated from theatre school – she’s charismatic, charming and sings beautifully.

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With his money on Fogg to fail, Captain Fix, played by the imposing Derek Frood (Captain Bray in TV’s Poldark), does everything he can to hold them up and the gullible Passepartout falls for his tricks every time – with hilarious results. Frood’s got a big booming voice and a stage presence to match.

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From England, they travel via Spain, Italy, Greece and Egypt to reach the exotic Bombay Hilton Hotel where they meet an  Indian princess. Then it’s off to the Indian jungle, Hong Kong and to China (where they hitch a lift on a junk with Miss Fotherington – Karen Davies – a missionary travelling to Japan, while Fix lures Passepartout to a opium den), then on over to America and back to London. Phew. They’re cutting it awfully close. Will they make it?

The show’s filled with great singing, dancing and different characters.  Here’s Nikkola Burnhope as Passepartout’s Irish girlfriend Katy (just one of her many roles) and Samuel Clifford, who pops up throughout the show with a range of different moustaches and disguises and accents to match – his Morman farmer’s ‘I need another wife’ number in Salt Lake City is a real highlight.

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I can honestly say that you didn’t have to be related to any of the show’s community cast of around 18 young people to genuinely think they were every bit as good as the professionals. They popped up in little character roles, sang and danced in ensemble pieces and performed a nerve-wrackingly impressive balancing act.

The production’s got a Victorian-cum-21st century atmosphere, with a set inspired by the workings of a Victorian pocket watch – with a giant clock face and huge cogs – a clever way of indicating each new destination like an old fashioned railway signal. Oh and did I mention the steam punk costumes? There are lots of clever little theatrical tricks and surprises throughout, which left the kids asking ‘how did they do that?’

This is a feelgood Christmas show with real heart – and we all left the theatre feeling as if we’d had a great big group hug.

Around the World in 80 Days is on from now until Sat 31 December, with tickets from £17.50 adults. £14 child 16 and under; £58 a family ticket for 4, one of whom must be a child.

The Brewhouse, Coal Orchard, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1JL.  Tel. 01823 283 244. thebrewhouse.net

 

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