Inside the Greenroom: A Closer Look at Around the World in 80 Days

Grab your hat and get yourself ready for a whirlwind trip around the globe with a closer look at Tilted Wig’s colourful, madcap adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel, Around the World in 80 Days.

On this page, you’ll find a video interview with cast members, photos from rehearsals and an interview with director Juliet Forster about why they decided to adapt Around the World in Eighty Days for stage and entwine the story of real-life globetrotter Nellie Bly alongside the tale of the fictional Phileas Fogg.

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Learn more about this globetrotting adventure from director Juliet Forster

Why did you choose Jules Verne’s story to adapt for the stage?

It was during the pandemic – we were all stuck at home not able to travel much and certainly not abroad, so I joked that we should put on Around the World in 80 Days to counter this. I liked the idea of armchair tourism!

We originally staged this production in August 2021. I hadn’t originally anticipated writing my own adaptation, while the idea of producing it was firming up, I realised that I didn’t actually know the story that well, even though I knew it was about Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, so I started reading the novel and looked at several existing stage adaptations. But I couldn’t find one I wanted to direct.

Weirdly, the one element I had been really keen on – the journey around the world transporting the audience to different locations – is not very strongly present in the book, or therefore in the various previous adaptations. Verne focuses very much on the action of the plot – the wager, the chase, the delays they encounter, and as Phileas Fogg is written as a caricature of a stiff upper lipped Englishman who isn’t interested in the world he is travelling through but only in winning the wager, he barely interacts with the countries he is in. Consequently, there is very little description of the locations, and Fogg spends most of his time drinking tea, playing card games, eating English food and reading English newspapers.

In my version, this is described as “travelling the world, taking England with him”. So I realised that I would have to adapt the book myself, to create the kind of production I was imagining.

Photo by Anthony Robling

Nellie Bly’s story is fascinating and not well known – why did you decide to weave it alongside Phileas Fogg’s adventure?

I knew vaguely about the journalist, Nellie Bly, because of her famous Ten Days in a Mad-House where she went undercover to an Asylum and blew the lid on the appalling treatment of patients with mental illness which brought about major reform in that area. Her name came up when I was doing a bit of research around actual attempts at circumnavigating the globe, before I started writing. I was genuinely shocked that I had been more familiar with the name Phileas Fogg and a piece of fiction, than I had been about the real-life Victorian woman who set the record for this – and she did it in less time! I started reading her book about the journey – as a journalist, she wrote about her journey for people who had never been abroad, so it was a beautifully written travelogue which really captured a picture of the world at that time. I knew I couldn’t write the play without her story in it, and I realised that her descriptions of different countries would also help conjure the places for the audience.

Photo by Anthony Robling

What inspired you to use circus characters to narrate the story and how do you feel this enhances the play?

In order to tell Nellie Bly’s story too, the play had to be written as conscious storytelling, and I needed a framing device. Circus is all about illusion and physical prowess, and of course circuses travel around the world too. Circus is also very strongly featured in Jules Verne’s novel: Passepartout is a former circus performer, in Japan he ends up working in a circus when he is separated from Fogg and the circus show is featured in the story, and there are also various processions and carnivals in the narrative, all of which made circus feel a good fit. Then I realised that instead of trying to use culturally specific items to evoke each country or form of transport, I could use circus equipment as the building blocks that conjured these images, and that this would give me a common language that was simply used in different ways accompanied by changing soundscapes. On a more minor note, it also seemed an interesting subtle allusion to the British approach to Empire – pitching up across the world, bringing their own culture with them, proclaiming themselves the best, and waiting to be admired and emulated.

Photo by Anthony Robling

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