Hudson Village Theatre celebrates its milestone 25th season with a soaring stage production of one of the world’s most beloved adventure stories, “Around the World in 80 Days”. Toby Hulse’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s acclaimed 1873 novel is here directed by Mike Payette and presented by HVT in association with Théâtre Lac-Brome and Geordie Productions. Having just completed a six-performance engagement in Knowlton, the play now runs in Hudson through to August 20th, and will later open in downtown Montreal at the D.B. Clarke Theatre as part of Geordie’s main stage season come April 2018.
This summer, the Hudson Village Theatre brings a contemporary imagining of a classic to its fittingly picturesque railway setting, “Around the World in 80 Days”. A multi-character narrative performed by three actors on an intimate stage, the epic globetrotter tale is here told in small scale, but it’s no less grand in brimming with mischievous panache.
We are transported to 1872 London – “the age of reason, science, and truth” – where Mr. Phileas Fogg (Chimwemwe Miller), an English adventurer with a penchant for mechanical precision, sets out to win an outrageous £20,000 wager by attempting to circumnavigate the globe in an unprecedented eighty days.
With pompous self-assurance and a bag stuffed with freshly minted Bank of England pound notes, Fogg leads his newly employed French valet Jean Passepartout (Danielle Desormeaux) on a series of madcap expeditions through the most exotic of locations – India, Egypt, China, Japan, and America – on exact schedule to sweep the bet.
Hot on the odd couple’s wayfaring heels, though, is the Fix of Scotland Yard (Mike Hughes), who, in his infallible sixth sense, suspects the charming Fogg of bank robbery. Determined to arrest whom he believes is a con man but destitute of a warrant or any proof of such a nefarious crime, the justice-seeking detective follows his moving targets through their transatlantic crossings by every method of transport known to modern man – carriages, steamers, and elephants included. Danger and delay are encountered along the way, but driven by handsome rewards – monetary and otherwise – one is inescapably lured into the original and ultimate “amazing race”.
With dizzying speed, the sterling triad of Montreal performers switch disguise, posture, and accent to play a multitude of international characters ranging from train conductors to travel agents to Indian royalty. Chimwemwe Miller in his main act as the witty and well-groomed Fogg is thoroughly charismatic, bringing a necessary commanding presence and calculated conduct to the eccentric Englishman. Mike Hughes, in his turn, makes excellent use of his Le Coq clown training and Cirque du Soleil experience to gain comic mileage as the dastardly but admirably persistent Detective Fix. It is Danielle Desormeaux in her cross-dressing appearance as Fogg’s trusted manservant Passepartout, however, who garners the most delightful of laughs in deftly rushing and tumbling about the stage. All the cast pull their travelling weight in this ensemble production that can wholly be described as a formidable feat in physical comedy.
Elevating their exciting exploits are a team of first-class designers. The kinetic energy and relentless rhythm of the spectacle are supported by Michel Charbonneau’s lighting and Rob Denton’s sound design. Sabrina Miller provides the sepia-toned set and cultured costumes, fashionably faithful to the Victorian period. The stage centrepiece is a wondrous world map that flickers to informs onlookers of the journeyer’s geographic whereabouts.
Sarah Osmond as head of props truly has her work cut out for her with a sea of toys and trinkets that are sequentially pulled out from a collection of moving trunks. (“Around the World in 80 Days” may, in fact, be best described as a tightly run ship with actors and technicians alike hitting their marks with organically orchestrated synchronicity.) Conjuring images of the long voyage are low-tech stagecraft marvels that include puppetry and the creative use of fabrics. The beauty is in the details; the magic, in the limitations.
Director Mike Payette of Geordie Productions, in effect, here gives audiences the gift of imagination, asking them to fill any necessary gaps. The inspired and dynamic staging is the powerful engine that sustains the show’s momentum from departure to destination – even as repeated jokes arise from the script (it rather helps that the humour displayed is self-referential and knowing of the absurdity of it all). As the days are counted off, we are treated to a wonderfully original reveal, and the “beat the clock premise” pulsates throughout.
A tribute to the achievements of human industry, invention, and perseverance, “Around the World in 80 Days” is a delightfully entertaining piece for the whole family. The prevalent themes of the unstoppable passage of time and the fantastic thrills and romances of travel have universal appeal, enthralling audiences of all generations.
Boundlessly spirited and playful, there is merriment aplenty in this fast-paced romp running at the Hudson Village Theatre until August 20th, 2017.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
By Jules Verne
Adapted by Toby Hulse
Directed by Mike Payette
When: August 9 – 20, 2017
Where: Hudson Village Theatre (28 Wharf Road, Hudson, QC, J0P 1H0)
Admission: $33 (taxes and service charges not included)
Box Office: (450) 458-5361 | www.villagetheatre.ca
Running time: 80 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Missed the show this time around? Catch the remount in Montreal from April 20 – 29, 2018 at the D.B. Clarke Theatre! Details/Box Office: www.geordie.ca