In Jules Verne's novel, the Victorian Phileas Fogg and his manservant Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the globe to win a bet. "Everyone thinks Mr Phileas Fogg's journey is impossible," says the theatre director Toby Hulse. "But through his clarity of vision and power of invention, he overcomes those obstacles."
Hulse's ambitious production recreates the duo's journey, with three actors playing more than 30 characters, leaving much of the geographic detail to a leap of the audience's imagination. "We also wanted to capture in the adaptation and performance something of the sense of overcoming insurmountable problems," says Hulse. "Technically, it is impossible to tell the story on stage with only three actors. The theatrical challenge is how you overcome that."
As Verne was inspired by a voyage on Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Eastern, it's an appropriate choice of production to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the engineer. Verne's tale has also been chosen for The Great Reading Adventure 2006, a scheme aimed at children in the South-West.
The simple set includes a large map of the world, so that the audience can follow the characters' progress around the world. There's also a profusion of suitcases, full of hats, wigs, glasses needed for the actors to play the other characters, and trunks that are sometimes piled up in combinations and transformed into boats, trains and ticket offices.
"What I kept coming back to was that the most complicated problems are often solved in the most simple ways," says Hulse, whose previous work at Bristol Old Vic includes the No Loud Bangs series and The Chatterbox. "The book throws up a number of very big problems. But if you take that leap of faith into what theatre does best - which is to tell a story - by asking your audience to use their imagination, then those problems are easily solved."
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