Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

King’s Theatre

From 17 August 2012 to 20 August 2012

Rating: ***

Review by Philip Fisher

Romanian director Silviu Purcărete has put together a version of Jonathan Swift’s classic seen through a series of frequently beautiful tableaux.

It seems reasonable to assume that anyone visiting the King’s will be familiar with the novel and they need to be. While each scene stands alone, to put them together, one really needs to be familiar with the four main sections of the novel and, ideally, other Swiftian satires. 

In addition to scenes developed from Gulliver’s Travels there is a gory scene inspired by A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick and another from Swift’s raucous poem, A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed featuring raunchy Corinna the Pride of Drury Lane, while other works may also be in there somewhere.

The opening sequence sets the scene for the 90 minutes, with human horses or Houyhnhnms joined on a straw-strewn stage by a live horse. This is quickly followed by an attack on an ageing Swiftian character, leaving him unconscious in a mental hospital. Presumably, the ensuing events are part of his dream or nightmare while incarcerated.

The sense of adventure continues throughout as the story is narrated by a little boy or the old man in Romanian with English voice over keeping surtitles to a minimum.

While some sections are not easily pigeon-holed into the novel’s subject matter, others are easily understood and exhibit great humour, generally accompanied by Shaun Davey’s music played on the theatre’s organ by Teodora Circiumaru.

In Lilliput, Gulliver and the locals are seen behind a curtain in silhouette, which works perfectly. The effect is later replaced by a combination of toy soldier-sized characters and humans working in harness. A third variation sees mini women (Yahoos) operated as human puppets.

This production by an ensemble from Radu Stanca National Theatre of Sibiu may lack coherence and faithfulness to its source but should be celebrated for its visual and aural imagination.