It was a real treat to be able to enter the grounds of the magnificent property that is Hamptworth Lodge and wander unimpeded around a venue that is rarely allowed to be seen by the public. The gardens prove a delight and natural background for this equally rarely seen adaption of the famous Jules Verne novel, perhaps more famous for the screen version with David Niven and Shirley MacLaine.
Jonathan Marmont plays Phileas Fogg with suitable British Empire bounce and resolve, forever eschewing the sights for the journey and rescuing his long-suffering manservant, Passepartout – played with energetic verve and flawless accent by Ruben Sanchez-Garcia – from endless scrapes engineered by a dedicated James Norton as Inspector Fix.
Suze Avery plays Mrs Aouda as a charming feminist adventurer finally being able to woo the ‘set in his ways’ Phileas, and there is a supporting cast in character roles, notably in the shape of Paul Baker as Mr Naizu (flawless diction), Marie McDade as various outrageous seafaring captains and Jez Minns as numerous consuls and dignitaries.
Under director Paul Green, it is clear that a lot of work had gone into providing the journey, the beautiful and ingenious elephant on wheels being particularly well received. It appeared to me, however, that perhaps the space is a bit too much for what might be a more intimate production along the lines of The 39 Steps, which plays on the notion that it is a send-up and the various actors repeating the roles along the way with just a change of hat etc is just as funny as the scrapes portrayed, and the Britishness is at its most barmy. This production falls somewhat between two stools of seriousness and pantomime, and the modern music Ski Sunday theme and Star Trek references (a brilliant Scotty impersonation) may seem somewhat incongruous and baffling to those treating it as a purely faithful adaption. The balloon reference seals the deal on the status of previous proceedings but perhaps rather too late.
Praise can be given for how hard the cast and crew work, and the change of props and period costumes keep everything going at a pace: you really feel the speed of the journey. Attention to detail is shown in the case of the (cleverly designed) funeral fire, train and boat scenes rapidly interchanging before your eyes with helpful city-named placards to assist, just in case it is all a bit too frenetic.
Does he win his £20,000 or was it all in vain? The joy is waiting for the delicious twist ending.
Future performances: 21-22 July at 7.30, 23 July at 3 pm, 25-29 July at 7.30.