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Review: Around the World in 80 Days at Liverpool Playhouse ****

For many of us the idea of a voyage around the world is a romantic proposition.

For Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg – brought engagingly to life in this uproarious crowd-pleaser - it’s purely a mathematical calculation and financial wager.

Of course, even the hardest heart and most metronomic, single-minded brain can’t fail to be changed by what happens along the way, particularly when you’re accompanied by a travelling companion as infuriatingly eager, hapless and open to experiences as Michael Hugo’s Passepartout.

Someone from Stratford once wrote ‘all the world’s a stage’. But here in this inventively bonkers New Vic/Royal Exchange co-production, the stage becomes the world, careering by in crazy fashion from colonial Suez and colourful India to America’s wild wild West and finally the banks of the Mersey.

Although I have to say, if Fogg (the imposing Andrew Pollard) thinks circumnavigating the globe is a challenge, it’s one that could very easily come to a tearful conclusion on the West Coast mainline home straight.

Along the way, when his head isn’t buried in a Bradshaw’s guide - like a Victorian Michael Portillo, only in more subdued clothing, Fogg glides urbanely through encounters with rubber-stamping servants of Empire, elephant drivers, circus tumblers, gunslingers and ship’s captains (all played by the multi-skilled, hard-working cast), throwing money – literally – at each and every problem that presents itself.

And at each and every step he’s stalked by Dennis Herdman’s very funny, wild-eyed Scotland Yard plod who’s convinced he’s on the trail of a wily criminal.

There are nifty visual gags, clever cartoonish choreographed fights to a Bollywood beat (Liverpool’s Beverly Norris Edmunds is movement director), and ingenious transformations for the most commonplace objects.

Meanwhile the fourth wall is sporadically broken for Hugo’s delightfully naughty Passepartout to embroil various unsuspecting members of the audience in the caper. And what a caper it is.

There are a couple of sections during the evening which feel a little over-egged, but in essence this is hugely enjoyable and creative theatre for lovers of good storytelling.

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