All the stage is a world

Alberta Theatre Projects takes on classic Jules Verne tale

Those seeking to escape Calgary’s wintry weather might consider taking a trip to Alberta Theatre Projects’ latest show Around the World in 80 Days . This play offers a virtual escape for those who come armed with their imaginations.

The adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel by Toby Hulse stays truer to the book than many of the film versions. Follow Phileas Fogg (Rylan Wilkie) and his loyal assistant Passepartout (Natascha Girgis) as they seek to win a bet by circumnavigating the Earth; meanwhile Scotland Yard detective Fix (Sanjay Talwar) starts tailing them having mistakenly identified Fogg as a wanted bank robber.

Remember though that this across-the-globe story has to happen on a single stage and what’s more there are 30-odd characters shared between only three actors. That’s where the magic comes in.

“First you have to find the right actors — that’s quite a challenge sometimes” says the show’s director Mark Bellamy explaining that the actors must be versatile enough to play multiple characters but also be a good fit for their primary role. “It was really fun to imagine all the different ways you could’ve cast the show and ending up with an incredible company of these three actors.”

Once cast though the actors are on their own adventure just navigating the kaleidoscope of characters. “Part of the fun was discovering all the different ways we could create these characters and make the switches almost instantaneously” says Bellamy. “The thing that I love about shows like that is it asks the audience to engage their imagination a little bit more; come on board with us and go on this ride and accept the roles that we create for the show.”

Of course Around the World quite literally takes you on a ride (on four boats three trains and an elephant to be precise) travelling to London Suez Bombay Calcutta Hong Kong Yokohama San Francisco New York and finally back to London. Evoking so many different places in the course of a single play requires not only talented actors but also the expertise of a team of designers.

“The design of this show is a really important part of how we create the journeys and how we go from place to place” says Bellamy. Film projection and sound design supplement the physical sets to help establish the moods of different countries and even those sets are simpler than you might think using basic elements to represent larger settings.

“We tried to build everything out of suitcases actually…. There’s lots of trunks that become trains and then these poles that become the rails of a ship” says Bellamy. “It reminds me of the way that kids play. You know how kids will take the cushions on a couch and build a fort or build a car — it’s kind of that idea of letting the imagination play and work.”

This family-friendly show promises to be a fun pan-continental romp with actors showcasing their versatility and designers exercising their ingenuity. For his part Bellamy a longtime fan of Verne hopes that the production will ignite everyone’s imaginations.

“It’s the kind of show that we don’t often get to experience not only as theatre practitioners but also I think as audiences” he says. “I think if people come away with an appreciation of how great live storytelling like this can be that’s a really beautiful thing — and I hope that kids go home and make trains and elephants and ships out of stuff that they find in their house.”

While shy of an 80-day run Around the World in 80 Days plays throughout the holidays until December 29.