Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Gulliver’s Travels, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival

Review: Gulliver’s Travels, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival

Gulliver’s Travels, the ultimate in grand tour gap years, becomes a carnival procession in the hands of revered Romanian director Silviu Pucarete. It’s undeniably beautiful to look at and frequently funny to watch, but Pucarete’s posturing production basically parades a series of Swiftian species before us to very little cumulative effect.

That’s primarily because he lets his staging shift its vocabulary from scene to scene. For a long while, it looks like he’s twisting the whole into hospital – and seems a canny bit of programming next to Waiting for Orestes: Electra. Women dressed as horses have crutches for front legs. A bedridden judge is vigorously sponge-bathed. Women covered in boils the size of babies heads indulge in a mass lancing session. Other pop out children like is nobody’s business, but their own, selling the sprogs off for a chef’s speciality, as in Swift’s short A Modest Proposal.

Yet, as the conveyor belt continues, this fades from view, replaced and forgotten. Lilliput and Brobdingnag, with their outsized citizens, are staged through shadowplay. A dishevelled drag act represents a Drury Lane prostitute. An ant-line chorus of bankers zigzag around before gathering like a cliff face of guillemots to eat a lunch of eggs. All this is utterly gorgeous to watch, but it reveals very little beyond the fact that – shock of all shocks – Swift was writing about human beings.

Perhaps that’s why Pucarete seems to beg the question of different species throughout. Horses – or rather Houyhnhnms – recur early on: human representations, real specimens capable of bolting through the stalls and hobby horses. There are suggestions of inter-species relations and two giant mice that scuttle across the stage. Again, it looks great, but to what ends?

The problem is that Pucarete is spinning image after image, most of which are inert representations without any spark of liveness. You watch, you admire, you melt and you yawn, then grit your teeth in endurance. By the end, Gulliver’s travels have become travails.

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