REVIEW: Around the World with Nellie Bly, Shedlight Stories (VAULT Festival)

VAULT Festival has finally returned, three years after the 2020 festival was forced to close prematurely by the pandemic. Our final pre-lockdown show was at VAULT and we’ve been looking forward to getting back under the arches under Waterloo station ever since. After hearing great things about its Edinburgh Fringe run, we’ve also been keen to see Around the World with Nellie Bly, so Mummy and the munchkins headed underground this weekend for an afternoon of adventuring.

Established in 2019, Shedlight Stories aims to shine a light on inspirational stories that often go under the radar, with a focus on women, LBGTQ+ individuals and the global majority. Around the World with Nellie Bly tells the true tale of investigative journalist, Nellie Bly, who set out to emulate the fictional feat of Phileas Fogg by travelling around the world in 80 days. Dismissed first by her editor and then her literary hero, Jules Verne, Bly proved her doubters wrong, smashing her target and circumnavigating the globe in a mere 72 days.

Although recommended ages 6-12, it’s an entertaining and inspiring show which will just as easily appeal to adults. The children of the audience were outnumbered by the grown-ups on Sunday, but Katie Overstall’s one-person (plus puppet) performance received a rapturous reaction from everyone in attendance; including our hard to impress pre-teen. Crotchet has taken to turning her nose up at anything she deems to be aimed at children, but she sat bolt upright and hung on Overstall’s every word. Meanwhile, 9 year old Quaver was delighted that her strategy of sitting in the front row in the hope of audience participation paid dividends.

Overstall is an engaging storyteller, who interacts very naturally with the audience in the intimate space. Her writing is witty and compelling, and the production (directed by Nell Thomas, with dramaturgy by Joanna Matthews) is as well-paced as Bly’s impeccably planned adventure. A selection of appropriately portable props are used to excellent effect, including a map of the world which collapses into a giant story book, while Shaun Lati’s cute monkey puppet design adds charm.

Overall, Around the World with Nellie Bly is an entertaining and educational production which, like all the best family theatre, is entertaining for everyone including the adults. It’s a great way to learn about an inspirational woman from history, and is filled with empowering messages which will resonate for all. It’s back at VAULT Festival for another couple of performances, and we would thoroughly recommend adding it to your schedule if you’re in Waterloo (with or without children) this weekend.

Around the World with Nellie Bly plays at VAULT Festival on 28, 29 January and 4,5 February 2023. We received complimentary press tickets to the performance on 29 January.