Theresa Heskins’ celebrated production of Around the World in 80 Days returns to the stage at Cadogan Hall this summer as part of a major national tour. We talked to actor Kirsten Foster about this heart-warming, hat-swapping show.
For those that may not be familiar, can you tell us a bit about the story and what audiences can expect from the production?
The play is about a mysterious, quintessentially English gentleman, Mr Fogg, who is very much set in his ways and in his daily routine. That is, until he makes a bet with his friends at the reform club that he can travel around the world in 80 days – and off he goes, bringing his French valet Passepartout with him. As they navigate the globe, they ride on a countless number of steamers and trains, they save an Indian Widow (Mrs Aouda), and, unbeknownst to them, are followed by Mr Fix, an inspector from Scotland Yard who suspects that Fogg is a thief!
Our production is a whirlwind of inventive theatricality – we use suitcases, hats and pretty much anything we can get our hands on to represent different modes of transport and various countries around the world. It is so much fun to create different places before the audiences’ very eyes and at the same time tell the heart-warming story of a man finding his place in the world.
You are reprising your role as Mrs Aouda in the show. How would you describe the character, and why do you enjoy playing her?
It’s an absolute pleasure to get to play Mrs Aouda again. She starts off as a victim of circumstance and one would assume, at first glance, the classic ‘damsel-in-distress’, but what I love about playing her and what’s fantastic about Laura Eason’s adaptation is that she is imbued with this inner strength. Once rescued she takes responsibility for her own life and makes the choice to stay with Fogg and help him on his mad journey. She also has this view of the world which is almost child-like as she sees the beauty and uniqueness in every corner they visit.
I also enjoy playing her because she is the voice of the minority: not only is she a woman, she is also a BAME woman and is able to enlighten Fogg about her experience of the world which is so very different to his own.
You’re part of a cast of 8 who together play an impressive 125 characters. How many parts do you play? Are there any particularly inventive ways of distinguishing between characters in the show?
I play two parts officially, but many others unofficially as we attempt to fill the stage with as much hustle and bustle in each place we visit.
As I said, in the show we use hats and pretty much anything we can get our hands on to create all the different characters. As an ensemble everyone is very strong physically too so we use our physicality to differentiate between characters, as well as through different tones of voice and accent. This show is a real test for an actor but also a real joy because you have to pull all your tricks out of the bag!
The production has previously been nominated for both the UK Theatre Awards ‘Best New Production’ and the Manchester Theatre Awards’ ‘Best Show for Children and Families’. What do you think makes this such a successful adaptation for family audiences?
It’s got something for everyone. It truly truly does. Adventure, romance and even a circus!
There are a number of breath-taking set pieces which I don’t want to give away in case you do come and see it but I was backstage the other night waiting for my cue, watching one of these set pieces, and I had a quick look at the front row and there was a young boy and his granny, just sat there with an identical expression on their faces; their mouths wide open in wonder and glee, enjoying every moment of it! That is why this show is a delight, it captivates and warms the heart of 7 year olds to 70 year olds!
Jules Verne’s book was published almost 150 years ago, but it continues to capture the public’s imagination, with real life imitators following in Phileas’s footsteps and adaptations across stage and screen. Why do you think the story remains so popular?
I think we’re all adventurers at heart, we all leap at the call of the unknown, and that’s why this story remains so popular. Deep down if we could all sack off work and just travel around the world, exploring every inch of it, then of course we would!
What was your experience of theatre growing up?
I was born and grew up in Hong Kong so my experience of theatre was slightly limited but my dad told the best bedtime stories and through that my passion for telling stories developed.
As I got older and started doing GCSE and A-level drama my experience of theatre expanded thanks to a brilliant English literature teacher who introduced me to Shakespeare, and my inspirational drama teacher who introduced me to the likes of Frantic Assembly, DV8 and Kneehigh.
Nothing beats a good story and Mr Fogg’s is definitely a brilliant one, so I do hope you join us Around the World in 80 Days!
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