12:00 AM 29th June 2024

Around the World in 80 Days-ish

Photo: Kirkpatrick Photography.
Photo: Kirkpatrick Photography.
Actor and acrobat Maria Gray’s trip around the world has not been without delays. But now third time lucky she’ll set off to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Or to be precise ‘80-ish’ days.

She comes to York Theatre Royal well qualified for such a marathon journey having known about Juliet Forster’s adaptation of the Jules Verne classic Around the World in 80 Days since its birth. She’s even acted in it – sort of.

“Would you like to hear my history of Around the World?” she asks in reply to a straightforward inquiry of “Do you know the play?”. Simple question, not so simple answer.

She had an intimate connection with the adaptation as her composer husband Ed Gray was working on music and sound for the York Theatre Royal production. Or should that be Theatre Royal-ish as first-time round in the 2021 post-covid era Around the World in 80 Days was mainly performed outdoors.

“I was at home and because Ed had the script he would sometimes get me to read things so he could time the sound in a particular way. So I’ve known the script from the very beginning,” explains Maria.

She auditioned for the production, didn’t get the role but inevitably with Ed working on sound she was around as the production came to life under director Juliet Forster.

Photo: Kirkpatrick Photography.
Photo: Kirkpatrick Photography.
Maria had previously worked with her on the production of The Machine Stops at the theatre in 2008 and again in 2013. They’d become friends and would chat about Around the World as it took shape. Last year the show figured in their lives again when Tilted Wig production company staged a six-month UK tour with a new cast. Again, as Ed was the music and sound man Maria was privy to changes and additions made to the show.

Although pregnant she still found a role in the show when one of the actors had to miss the first few weeks of rehearsals. “Juliet asked if I would step in to cover the actor during rehearsals. “That was quite fun because I was 34 weeks pregnant. I saw that version and then had the baby,” she says.

“The actor I covered for was playing the detective called Fix so that gave me a different experience of the play. I saw it developing and the differences to the first production. I planned to see the tour with baby but that didn’t quite happen”.

Not that baby Soul hasn’t travelled. Last year Maria toured with Stuff and Nonsense theatre company in Little Red Hen which took her and Soul to Switzerland. Next up is China where Maria, Soul and the plucky little red hen will visit later this year when the production plays in four different locations, including Shanghai, over two and a half weeks.

At the moment her travels take her no further than York Theatre Royal for Around the World rehearsals in which she plays Nellie Bly and the Acrobat. Nellie is a real life character who followed in the fictional Phileas Fogg’s footsteps to circumnavigate the world in 1889 – and did it in less time. Nellie was an American investigative journalist for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World who also feigned insanity to get committed to an asylum so she could expose conditions there.

Maria Gray
Maria Gray
Maria has been working on Nellie’s American accent for the role and admires the reporter’s confidence and determination. “She was an adventurer, strong-willed and determined who told her editor, ‘I want to go round the world’. I love her go-get attitude,” says Maria.
Maria’s stage work began as a child. “I started as a dancer. I was in plays, am-dram stuff as a five-year-old dancing around. As the years progressed I realised I didn’t like the life of a dancer, partly because it’s short-lived and because of attitudes towards dancers. I kind of fell out of love with it,” she explains.

“I was acting and doing dance on the side, then came to the crossroads – do I go to dance school or drama school?”

She opted for acting at E15 meaning that for the first time dancing took a back seat. But that “passion to move my body” was still there after completing the course although she acknowledges that drama school was a superb foundation for what she does now.

She found the best of both worlds with physical theatre companies where character-driven narratives work alongside movement. Traits that are the hallmark of companies such as DV8 and Frantic Assembly.

She got a job in Italy where she took daily classes in movement, learning circus skills such as trapeze, silks and aerial hoop. “I was doing that for fun. Then I came back and got my first job here in York in 2015. I love what I’m doing now. I get to move my body and express a character through movement but still get to explore the text,” she explains.

The circus-themed Around the World production is an ideal choice for her. “I like doing the circus stuff but I’m not good enough or have trained enough to call myself a circus performer or trapeze artist. But I can use my acting ability to be able to speak and hang upside down.”

She has also trained be a yoga instructor, running weekly sessions in yoga and chair yoga at the theatre.
After Around the World Maria and Soul (the name is a play on the Italian for sunshine – husband Ed is a half-Italian) are off on a trip to China with Little Red Hen.
Soul saw his first show last summer, the drama Sovereign outdoors at King’s Manor in York. He sat and watched the whole thing, says Maria of the three-hour community show.

But it’s Little Red Hen which Maria performed while pregnant that has made most impression. “It was about a chicken and he loved the music. He loves animals and is obsessed with chickens perhaps because he heard me doing chicken noises.”

Around the World in 80 Days-ish: York Theatre Royal, 18 July-3 August.
Box office 01904 623568 | yorktheatreroyal.co.uk