The words ‘family show’ tend to send a shiver down my spine. Images of hammy overacting, silly plotlines, laboured jokes and cheesy panto-style attempts at audience participation fill me with dread. So it was with some trepidation that I found myself at the Oxford Playhouse’s summer spectacular.

I should, of course, have had more faith in the Playhouse’s programming dream-team. Around the World in 80 Days was everything a family show should be: superlative theatre pitched perfectly for everyone in the house.

There was a rip-roaring uncluttered central plot, an hilarious script peppered with witty wordplay. There were belly laughs for younger audience members, knowing winks to the older ones and enough peril to keep us all on the edge of our seats. It was funny without being silly, clever without being patronising and packed with action.

All human life was there, along with a subtle message of emotional redemption for us all to take away.

Largely faithful to the Jules Verne classic, Laura Eason’s slick adaptation tells the tale of Phileas Fogg (played in suitably rigid Victorian style by Andrew Pollard) and his put-upon but resilient French valet Passepartout (star of the show, Michael Hugo), who set out to circumnavigate the globe to win a wager.

Along the way they are doggedly pursued by hapless police detective Inspector Fix (played brilliantly as a loathsome jobs-worth by Dennis Herdman) who is convinced Fogg is the culprit behind a heist at the Bank of England.

The plot is simple and so is the set, consisting of a set of railings, packing cases, table, two chairs and not much else, but which double up for everything from Fogg’s London home to a train carriage and the deck of a steamer.

Incredibly the action is carried off by a cast of just eight – who with deft flourishes of cloth, scenery and sound take us from a Bombay temple to a Hong Kong opium den, and from a ship pitching in rough seas to an elephant ride through the jungle.

The recurring motif is time. The clock speeds up as our heroes race around the planet but then slows to a virtual stop for wonderful fight scenes which are a cross between The Matrix and retro Kung Fu films (full credit to Movement Director Beverley Norris Edmunds).

Brilliant then. If you missed it, catch it at London’s Cadogan Hall until September 2, or make like Phileas and pursue it around the country for the rest of the year. See 5/5