Around the World in Eighty Days / The Mother

Steam Industry Free Theatre returns to open-air venue The Scoop with a double-bill themed ‘Dangerous Journeys’. Performing Brecht’s Marxist rallying-cry ‘The Mother’ in the shadow of the gleaming Ernst & Young building is satisfyingly cheeky. But family musical ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ travels the distance between past and present with greater success.

Director Phil Willmott’s adaptation of gentleman-adventurer Phileas Fogg’s wager-winning dash across the globe has an enjoyable Broadway brashness and sense of fun. Its confection of catchy songs and popular nineteenth-century fact and fiction (Queen Victoria and Sherlock Holmes both cameo) provides some well-placed digs at British imperialism while ensuring that the pace never slackens.

By contrast, Mark Ravenhill’s new translation of Brecht’s story of a Russian mother’s journey from political apathy to activism feels leaden and dated. Its point about workers’ rights has the wearisome relentlessness of a manifesto and the bombast of a rock opera. This bludgeoning tone isn’t softened by the glaringly symbolic cogs that litter the stage or the anti-Bolshevik orthodox farmers bizarrely presented as preening Welsh queens.

Nevertheless, the cast – which crosses productions – is uniformly strong. Eugene Washington is an aloof but endearing Fogg while Nicky Goldie is versatile as gossipy missionary Miss Fotherington and indomitable revolutionary mother Pelegea Vlassova.

First published by Time Out