• Comedy
  • By Sébastien Azzopardi and Sacha Danino; based on the novel by Jules Verne.
  • Director: Sébastien Azzopardi
  • Théâtre du Splendid, Paris
  • Booking until 1st January 2015
  • Time: 20:30
  • Review by Alexandra Heal
  • 5 October 2015
Around the World in 80 Days (Le tour du monde en 80 jours)
4.0Reviewer's Rating

If I had to sum up my evening at Théâtre du Splendid in one word, I’d say ‘memorable’. Comical? Yes. Riotous, even. The play is also well acted and effectively staged. But I’d describe the performance as memorable above all else, because I’ve never before had the opportunity to watch a French play before – or to watch it and actually understand it. After a few minutes of acclimatisation, reading the English surtitles projected above the stage was no different from the age-old experience of watching Audrey Tautou in a slightly bizarre ‘septième art’ screen production with subtitles. You simply get used to it.

I was dubious that the comedy, said to be full of puns and word plays by the friendly theatreinparis.com attendant in his informative pre-show presentation, could be successfully translated. But soon after the curtain went up, my doubts were allayed. Everyone in the audience, including the foreigners, was almost ‘mort de rire’ by the end of it. The slapstick is successful because it isn’t overdone, whilst the innuendos and not-so-subtle suggestions can’t fail to get laughs. Whilst the occasional outburst into song feel slightly random, the production’s other little quirks are welcomed. For example, the simple contrast of modern gags about Sarkozy and TripAdvisor being spouted by characters in period costume. And the actors’ frequent addressing of the fourth wall. Together, these give the feel of an adult pantomime, in keeping with the venue’s historic role as a rowdy ‘café concert’. It must be said that none of the above would be pulled off without the enthusiasm and quick improvisation of the actors – whose occasional laughing fits amongst themselves amplify the already comical ambience ten-fold.

The set is parsimonious. It consists of no more than an old-fashioned wooden stage within a stage, with a curtain that the actors draw across to easily signify the changing of a location. Considering the director’s mission to squeeze four continents and five modes of transport into one hour and 25 minutes, this is an efficient choice. As for the plot, one might worry that adapting a travel novel, written 140 years ago when different countries were alien to most, could carry the risk of offending. But every culture included has its fair share of mocking, and the clichés that we can all identify allow everyone to laugh. After all, we should all be able to take a joke. And I have grounds to say that – the Brits are probably the most mocked of all…

It would seem this review has gone slightly beyond the one word I originally permitted myself. But in addition to ‘memorable’, if I had to choose just one more adjective, it would be ‘cheerful’. I enjoyed not thinking too deeply, as theatre often sombrely asks of us. For once, it was refreshing to leave my seat feeling nothing but good, and grinning ear-to-ear.

 

Summary in French:

S’il fallait un seul mot pour résumer ma soirée au « Tour du Monde en 80 Jours », je dirais « mémorable ». Bien sûr, c’est léger, hilarant et loufoque. Mais c’est surtout mémorable parce que je n’avais encore jamais eu la chance de voir une pièce en français – ou de la voir et de vraiment la comprendre.

Les surtitres anglais projetés au-dessus de la scène se sont avérés faciles à lire. Ils offrent une traduction pertinente, très fidèle aux nuances et à l’humour de la pièce. Comme les Français, j’ai donc ri toutes les deux minutes. L’humour mélange ici le comique tarte à la crème, qui fonctionne car il évite d’être excessif ; un contraste entre l’époque à laquelle est censée se passer l’histoire (le 19e siècle) et des blagues ultra-contemporaines sur Nicolas Sarkozy ou Trip Advisor; et certaines pirouettes habituellement propres aux spectacles pour enfants. L’enthousiasme des acteurs, exceptionnels, permet à cette mayonnaise de prendre.

La mise en scène est simple : une structure en bois, équipée d’un rideau que les acteurs ouvrent et ferment à chaque changement de pays. Ce choix minimaliste s’avère particulièrement efficace pour transformer un roman complet, dont les personnages visitent quatre continents en utilisant cinq moyens de transport, en seulement une heure et 25 minutes.

Quant à l’intrigue, j’avais peur qu’une histoire écrite il y a 140 ans, à une époque où les pays éloignés restaient mal connus, soit un peu offensante. Mais toutes les cultures sont moquées sans parti-pris, et l’usage de clichés internationalement connus permet à tous les publics de rire. Je suis particulièrement bien placée pour le dire, les Anglais étant ceux qui en prennent le plus pour leur grade !

En définitive, je pourrais ajouter un deuxième mot pour décrire la pièce : « gai ». J’ai tout simplement pris plaisir à ne pas trop réfléchir, contrairement à ce que le théâtre exige parfois des spectateurs. Et j’ai quitté mon siège le sourire fendu jusqu’aux oreilles.

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