Q&A with Alex Ferris, director of Around the World in 80 Days

Leeds Playhouse’s Director of Creative Engagement, Alex Ferris, is bringing the stage adaptation of the classic tale Around the World in 80 Days to life. He tells us what to expect from the production…

What are you most looking forward to about directing Around the World in 80 Days?

We all have our own memories of the various versions of this timeless story (mine was of a cartoon lion in a hot air balloon) but I am loving getting stuck into Toby Hulse’s irreverent version. It’s part pastiche, part epic adventure and all a big fun game with the audience. Toby’s laid down the challenge to get the piece down to 80 minutes (he reckons it’s about 90 minutes) so I’m really looking forward to having my own time challenge to rival Phileas Fogg’s. Above all I’m looking forward to sharing the fun with audiences in the Pop-Up theatre and across the city in the community venues we will visit.

Can you tell us more about working with four of Leeds Playhouse’s Ensemble Company?

It’s been my first time working with this brilliant ensemble. They’ve been really open and playful – despite this being quite a different style to everything else in the Pop-Up season. Because of the way the piece is written we are pulling on skills they have as actors and as people: music, movement, pratfalls and every regional British accent we can muster! There’s a huge amount of trust between them and they were very ready to play when we started. I think audiences will enjoy seeing them in a different guise taking on this mammoth adventure story that takes in 4 continents, over 30 characters and a lot of suitcases.

Around the World in 80 Days is a well-known adventure story novel by Jules Verne. What has been the best part about bringing this story to life?

When Jules Verne wrote the story originally his intention was really to share the world with his readers – which is possibly why there are some hilariously detailed descriptions of the length of railways and other extraneous facts. The world is effectively much smaller now and travelling around the world isn’t anywhere near as rare as it was. Toby’s version is so fun and irreverent, it’s as much about the magic of storytelling, or story sharing, as it is about the feat of Victorian travel. So we’ve been enjoying finding clever ways to take audiences on that journey without them leaving that seat.

The production is being designed by Amanda Stoodley who recently designed Europe in Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre. Can you offer any insight in to how this production will look and sound?

Amanda Stoodley’s design for Europe was perfect so it’s been thrilling to get to work with her. We’ve also got composer Dom Coyote, last seen at the Playhouse with Kneehigh, looking after the music. So the production will surprise and amuse in every aspect.

The play will not only play in Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre but will also form this year’s community tour of venues across Leeds. What are you hoping audiences will get out of it?

I love community theatre of all types – I’m delighted we’re able to take the piece to our Community Partner Areas in Leeds. This piece has ultimate theatricality so adults and children will have a really fun night out. It’s an over the top adventure and I think audiences will really enjoy experiencing how we’ve managed to tell this epic story that takes us from Victorian Britain to India to the USA and back again with just a few actors and a handful of props. It’s been lovely looking at Buster Keaton, Marx Brothers and Morecambe & Wise for references. We’ve gone for pure entertainment! But there is always the question, will Fogg win his wager…?

If you could sum up this play in 3 words what would they be?

Fun, adventure-filled (I’m cheating a bit), and riotous.

Are you up for going Around the World in 80 Days?

It sounds like a really exciting, creative production. I’m looking forward to seeing a light-hearted production take to the stage, bringing a bit of joy and fun to the Pop-Up theatre stage. Grab your tickets from the Leeds Playhouse website.

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