When Phileas Fogg of No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens leaves for the Reform Club at exactly half-past eleven one morning, he steps out expecting his systematic, monotonous schedule of breakfast, dinner, reading and a good game of whist. What he doesn’t realize is that he will make a bet that will revolutionize travel, turn [...]


All set for an old world adventure

A young and energetic Royal College cast shares their excitement of bringing to the local stage, for the first time, a much loved classic ‘Around the World in 80 Days’

Vinsara Jayalath as Phineas Fogg

When Phileas Fogg of No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens leaves for the Reform Club at exactly half-past eleven one morning, he steps out expecting his systematic, monotonous schedule of breakfast, dinner, reading and a good game of whist. What he doesn’t realize is that he will make a bet that will revolutionize travel, turn his well-ordered life upside down and transform him into a top hat sporting Indiana Jones along the way.

Bringing to life Jules Verne’s classic “Around the World in 80 Days” this August for the first time on the local stage is Royal College.  This marks the return of the young Royalists from a hiatus of five years (save their annual performances at the Shakespeare Drama Competition) and it will be under the direction of old boy Thushara Hettihamu backed by the Old Royalists Association of Dramatists (ORAD).

The story needs little introduction. “Around the World in 80 Days” wasn’t Verne’s first novel, as the author had already penned other adventure stories, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. But it was the story of Fogg, Passepartout and Aouda and their adventure around the world that brought Verne the most acclaim and has been the influence for several films and real life attempts to beat Fogg’s wager since 1889.

With opening night looming close, it’s not unusual to find a room of hatted, sometimes turbaned young gentlemen pottering about with an old world sniff about them.  If you stumble in mid-rehearsal, you might just get shouted at by an angry Indian or find yourself trapped in a pandemonium of soldiers, mandolins and massive humanoid props.

For 14-year-old Rivi Wijesekera, the pandemonium and chaos are his favourite parts of the play. A relative newcomer to the stage, this marks his first performance in a public production and playing one of the story’s unassumingly complex characters- Aouda.  When Fogg and Passepartout first meet the young Indian widow it’s under exciting, daredevil circumstances- with the lady being forcibly taken to commit Sati (sacrificing herself at her husband’s funeral pyre).  When Rivi first auditioned for the play he didn’t expect to land one of the more challenging roles though he had previously acted in a female role as a teacher at the Inter House Drama Competition.  But it was the 14-year-old’s poise and maturity that caught the director’s attention at the audition.  Much like the story’s alternative hero, Aouda isn’t your typical damsel in distress. Educated, mature and able to hold her own among the English duo Hetti knew that Rivi would be perfect for the role.

Imaadh Dole as Detective Fix

Also playing a character close to his own heart is Vinsara Jayalath. When we meet the 16-year-old, he is already in character, a relaxed, bored look about him as he moves about, straight as board in typical Phileas Fogg fashion. Playing the story’s protagonist wasn’t Vinsara’s initial choice, when he originally tried out for the villain- Inspector Fix. But playing Fogg “was something I could relate to,” he smiles.  He got his first taste for theatre in the school’s 2014 version of Macbeth playing a minor role and went onto win best actor at this year’s Inter House Competition which boosted the young actor’s confidence.  For Vinsara , his take on Fogg is that of a reserved gentlemen whose only passion is for whist and making bets- an almost Victorian version of the Big Bang Theory’s socially awkward, lovable Sheldon Cooper. While playing Fogg has become second nature to him, the play in general while being tons of fun has proven to stretch the boys’ limits with the scenes running “nonstop” and hardly a single curtain closer.

With the fast paced action and lack of breaks between the scenes the audiences can be assured of “never a dull moment” promise Manasir Jisam (20), Mayaan Haputantri (19) and Haathim Munas (17)- the Gentlemen of the Reform Club.   We first meet the three gentlemen as part of Fogg’s rare friend group – at the Reform Club. Although the three play the least action- packed roles, it is Fogg’s meeting with the three that spark the bet in the first place. The three are polishing up their fancy Reform Club accents but admit that bringing out the subtle English humour through the dialogue is proving to be  challenging.  Both Manasir and Mayaan shared the stage together in Royal’s last public production “Lord of the Flies” (2011) while all three helped write and direct this year’s Inter House Drama Competition scripts. As the more senior cast members who will be leaving school this year “We wanted to go out with a bang”, with a story that they knew and loved growing up.

The story’s villain is Detective Fix; an inspector from Scotland Yard who is convinced that Fogg is a thief and literally follows him around trying to thwart his adventure and earn the reward money for the thief’s capture. Playing the obsessed, antagonist is bubbly, upbeat Imaadh Dole. The 20-year- old is no stranger to the stage having first performed in the “Lord of the Flies” and has been on stage for the past six years.  With a diverse list of roles behind him from the innately good Simon (Lord of the Flies), the honorable Banquo (Macbeth) and the mischievous Ariel from the school’s winning production of Tempest (2013)  Imaadh is relishing playing the forever plotting inspector, complete with a pair of sinister sideburns to match and has proved to be one of the production’s favourite characters.

Hidaayath Hazeer as Jean Passepartout. Pix by Malaka Mp

Playing Fogg’s faithful valet Jean Passepartout is 19- year-old Hidaayath Hazeer.  Hidaayath knew he loved theatre when he was forced to perform at a school campfire when he was eleven. Since then the 19-year-old has been a staple at the Shakespeare Drama Competitions. “I always loved imitating people” and making others laugh,” he says with a twinkle which made him the ideal candidate for the French Passepartout.  A mixture of  attracting disaster, bouts of emotion and a thirst for adventure which he tries to keep hidden, Passepartout is the complete opposite of his detached, calm and inexcitable employer. But it’s the polar opposite personalities of the two that makes the chemistry of Fogg and Passepartout so memorable and enjoyable to watch agrees Hidaayath. With his bowler pushed back easily and a French accent straight out of “The Pink Panther” Hidaayath’s Passepartout is a lanky, animated acrobat turned valet whose sincere attempts to help Fogg who he admires usually land them in jail or worse.  For Hidaayath and the others “It’s not just for the theatre enthusiast” he explains, but an evening of entertainment  and a chance to get a glimpse of the ‘old world’.


Rivi Wijesekera as Aouda

Royal College in association with the Old Royalists Association of Dramatists present Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne on August 12,13,14 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. The novel is adapted for the stage by Laura Eason by arrangement with Nick Hern Books. Tickets are priced at Rs. 2000, 1800, 1500, 1000, 600 and are available at the LionelWendt and online at lionelwendt.org


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