Around the World in 80 Days: The Journey of a New Musical for Primary Schools

Last week, as schools were launching a new academic year, West End in Schools were embarking on our own kind of journey. 

Our mission: travel the world in 80 days. In a 55 minute musical. In a show that can fit into a school hall.

Specifically, we were back in the rehearsal room putting together our brand new musical Around the World in 80 Days, based on the classic adventure novel by Jules Verne.

With a story exploring topics from Geography to the British Empire, from methods of telling time to Victorian history, the material seemed perfect for primary schools. Throw in some songs, some invisible juggling, and a bhangra-loving elephant, and how could anyone resist?

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I say we embarked on our journey last week. But that’s not strictly true. In fact, these rehearsals were the culmination of a creation process that began at the start of 2019. That’s when we first started talking to the writers about making a new show for primary schools. 

The Challenge

In Around the World in 80 Days the hero of the story, Phileas Fogg*, decides to prove that it’s possible to travel around the world in only 80 days.

In January 2019 we decided to create a new musical for primary schools. We knew that it had to appeal to children from Reception to Year 6, with a crystal clear story, toe-tapping songs and moments for the children to interact with the show and sing and dance along.

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The musical needed to be perfect for schools’ World Book Day celebrations but also suitable for performances throughout the year. Around the World in 80 Days fits the literacy bill as an adaptation of an 1873 novel, but it also covers a wealth of other topics that children learn about in the classroom, making it suitable year-round.

The show is made to tour around the country into school halls of all shapes and sizes. Take a look at our blog about our touring pantomimes, for a discussion of how this format compares with a show in the theatre.

*In our version of the show, our protagonist is Philomena Fogg, a feminist heroine who decides to defy expectations and acheive the impossible.

The Crew

Around the World in 80 Days features all sorts of colourful characters including the formidable (or is he?) Detective Fix, a Scotland Yard detective who chases Fogg around the globe. But our heroic travelling team is Phileas/Philomena Fogg, and Fogg’s lovable french companion Passepartout. 

To make a new musical requires a whole team of passionate and talented people. Around the World in 80 Days is written by the writer and composer of our ever-popular pantomimes, Andrew Emerson and Alex Silverman. Having written all of our school pantomimes which delight thousands of children every Christmas, they know exactly how to entertain a primary school audience while carrying them on a musical journey of the imagination.

At the helm of our production is our Creative Director Abi Rosser, who has directed and choreographed the show alongside the show’s associate director Roxy Cook. Meanwhile the gorgeous set and costumes have been made by our designer Phil Eddolls , and costume maker Cathy Eddolls. 

And of course we have assembled a wonderful cast of West End in Schools actors who will be bringing the musical to life in schools up and down the country!

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The Journey

Fogg and Passepartout travel from London to Egypt to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Japan to North America to London. All in a period of 80 days.

Our show’s geographical journey has so far stayed in London but will soon reach schools all over England. Meanwhile in terms of the creative journey of the show, there have been a few key steps:

1. The read-through

This happened back in May, following a whole lot of work by Alex and Andrew whose job it was to condense the original novel into a script and songs. The read-through was everyone’s chance to hear the first draft of the script out loud for the first time. We gathered a couple of our fabulous actors to read the dialogue, while Alex sat at the piano and sang the musical numbers.

2. The workshop

By mid-June we were into our week of R&D. By this point Alex and Andrew had refined the script based on feedback from the read-through, and so the primary purpose of the workshop week was about staging the show. 

How can we show the actors travelling by boat, train and elephant while making each mode of transport fun and distinctive? How can we use the physical production to help convey our journey around the world in a way that is clear to Reception children as well as information for Year 6 children? How tricky is invisible juggling?

All of these were questions that our director Abi and associate director Roxy had to answer. To help them and the actors along we also had our designer Phil in the room with us all week, building prototype props. Particular favourites were the bhangra-loving elephant and the Sunrise Counter - our characters’ method of keeping track of the days.

3. The rehearsals

Rehearsals began with another read-through of the script, now even more polished and refined based on the workshop week. With the set, props and costumes completed in all their glory, our actors Matt and Becky spent the week learning the show to perfection.

The rehearsals culminated with a run-through of the show for the creatives and the whole office team. The actors performed the completed version of the musical to all of us sat cross-legged on the floor, and it was our job to pretend to be an audience of primary school children (which, to be honest, was the easiest part of the process).

4. The show

This is the next step of our journey. Around the World in 80 Days is available in schools from 30th September, in the autumn, spring and summer terms. We’re already fairly busy around World Book Day but have some availability left. Get in touch if you’d like to enquire about a performance at your school!

- Rachel