Review by Paul Nelson
The solid gold, five star production of Around the world in Eighty Days, this year's Christmas special at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, actually produces three real stars.
They are the director, Phil Willmott, the choreographer Jack Gunn and Timothy Mitchell, who plays Passepartout.
Mitchell has managed to develop his part into the leading character, or was it Willmott who devised it that way? Whatever, Timothy Mitchell, who I last saw in a drama at Oval House, seizes his chance and dominates the stage producing gasps of delight from both the children and adults. He is a natural and everyone loved him, which is as it should be. A buffoon, easily duped, he is the perfect pantomime character, but here we have him as a major member of the plot. The actor is all that could be wished. Sensational.
However, at all times, the guiding star, the one that presumably took the wise men from nowhere to where it's at, is the originator of the evening, the aforementioned Willmott. You even get a glimpse of this former recluse, as he plays the evil Captain Fix, bent on the downfall of the whole enterprise, that of Phileas Fogg circumnavigating the globe in the said 80 days.
I have to lay it on the line here and now that I have seen all five of Willmott's Christmas spectaculars at BAC, as well as several other productions. I have enjoyed all of them.
I have even followed him through his company Steam Industry, whose home is the Finborough Theatre, where I truly believe was staged the most stunning production I have seen in the Fringe, a dramatisation of The Grapes of Wrath, which followed and connected with one of his previous Christmas shows at BAC, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The new production, for which I guarantee you will not get a seat if you don't move now, once word is out it will be a sell out, is simply his best.
I have a feeling he is an insecure man. He puts into his show a song, Aba Daba Honeymoon, from an old and forgotten movie. He didn't need to, because he caps it with two of his own original numbers, the rousing Passepartout, and Life Here in the Wilderness, a paean to the joys of being a Mormon and having legitimately limitless wives. This is screamingly funny with Paul Hazel singing to a stage full of devoted wives.
Once again I have to raise my voice and cry, why, oh why, is he not a candidate for the National Theatre as a director with access to all that lovely lolly. However, rumour has it the times they are achanging. As it is he produces on a shoestring better theatre by far. I have never wanted to walk out of one of his productions, whereas, the thought frequently enters my head elsewhere.
This pure pantomime show is so full of delights. There is Eugene, a puppet elephant to rival the animals in The Lion King. No less than three pairs of the leading characters get a Cinderella ending, a promise, as we all love, of happy ever after.
And are they not charming?
We all loved Queen Aouda (Rae Baker) and her handsome and dashing swain, the hero of the piece, Phileas Fogg (Bill Ward). Passepartout gets the love of his life Katy O'Flatherty (Chevaun Marsh), and even the vile Captain Fix, rotten to the core and evil even to the end of the show, is claimed by the woman he jilted and cheated, Miss Fotherington (Jane Lucas).
The joys of this show are seemingly endless. The song I mentioned previously, Life Here in the Wilderness is a company number led by Paul Hazel, with such an amount of energy that the whole of BAC's Christmas electricity bill could be wiped out.
There are also vignettes of Sherlock Holmes and Watson (Nick Smithers and Paul Oliver), and Queen Victoria and Disraeli (Shirley Barr and Alan Atkins) to add to the fun.
There are so many funny situations treated with the right kind of reverence and irreverence as the moment demands, that I can only say, go, go and go. The more expensive productions this season will have a tough time trying to top this one.
Around The World in Eighty Days, presented by BAC. Freely adapted by Phil Willmott. Score by Annemarie Lewis Thomas, based on tunes by Phil Willmott. Timothy Mitchell (Jean Passepartout), Bill Ward (Phileas Fogg), Rae Baker (Queen Aouda), Chevaun Marsh (Katy O'Flatherty), Phil Willmott (Captain Fix), Jane Lucas (Miss Fotherington), Paul Hazel (Hitch, a Mormon preacher), Shirley Barr (Queen Victoria), Alan Atkins (Disraeli), Nick Smithers (Sherlock Holmes), Paul Oliver (Dr Watson), Ed Jaspers (Journalist), Angela Michaels (Experienced Traveller), Sarah Ratheram (Dining Saloon Singer), Joseph Wicks (Parisian Railway Porter), Jordan Saflor (Policeman), Simon Greenhill (Gondolier), Amy Ip (Yuki ), Natalie Tapper (Trudi), Emma Thornett (Svetlana), Stephanie Tavernier (Helga), Sarah Lawn (Morag), Holly Boothby (Pam), Chantal Bell (Sheila).
Director Phil Willmott with Caitriona McLaughlin. Musical Director Annemarie Lewis Thomas. Choreographer Jack Gunn. Set and Lighting Design Hansjorg Schmidt. Costume Design Andri Korniotis. Puppet design Mervyn Millar.
BAC, Battersea Old Town Hall, Lavender Hill, London SW11. 020 7223 2223.