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‘Gulliver's Travels’ review

  • Theatre, Children's
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Gulliver’s Travels, Unicorn Theatre, 2022
Photo by Marc Brenner
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Wildly inventive stage reimagining of Oliver Swift fantasy opus

How to stage Oliver Swift’s satirical fantasy opus ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ without a kerjillian pound budget? This wildly innovative, extremely fun show for ages seven-plus shows you how. 

In a nutshell, Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s production uses live video and other charmingly lo-fi live camera work to create a series of extremely clever forced perspectives – often quite funny ones – that make Mae Munuo’s Gulliver look tiny or huge on the screens set up around the stage, depending on whether she’s surrounded by pint-sized Lilliputians or giant Brobingnagians. Sometimes tiny characters are played by a member of the four-strong cast with the aid of digital trickery; sometimes tiny model people are drolly trundled out.

Set designer Rosanna Vize has created a delightful series of diorama-style scenes to represent the various fantasy kingdoms Gulliver visits, but there’s an abundance of inventiveness all round.

More than that, though, there’s a palpable glee to every second of the show, from the way the four actors have a boogie on stage before the show starts, to the deployment of amusingly random pop songs throughout (most memorably Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long’), to the fact that right until the end they’re still finding fresh, funny new ways to bring Swift’s imaginary countries to life – the flying island of Laputa is an absolute hoot.

The Unicorn is of course a kids’ theatre, but when I attended there was a noticeable sprinkling of child-free theatre hipsters in the audience – the show clearly has a broad spectrum appeal, and indeed theatre hipsters will doubtless have a deeper appreciation for the craft on display than the average tween. At the same time, pitching the play as kids’ theatre has allowed adaptor Lulu Raczka to find a neat frame for a modern retelling. This Gulliver is actually a young girl, living in the modern world, who has an ill, hospital-bound mum and exhausting, chore-heavy homelife directed by her knackered older sister. Her voyages are forays into an escapist world of imagination as she tries to forget about the draining reality of her real life. It’s not really in the spirit of Swift’s grand social satire, and purists would doubtless be aghast at both the earnest, irony-free framing device and the deep cuts made to the story (no Yahoos! Barely any Houyhnhnms!). But being aimed at kids, it ducks the expectation that it needs to be entirely true to the source.

And ultimately, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ has endured as a popular classic for almost 300 years not because it’s a brilliant satire (though it is), but because it’s a ripping yarn full of wild fantasy realms that have never been surpassed in the popular imagination. And that’s what this stage version embraces brilliantly, rising to match Swift’s dazzling inventiveness with its own.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

Details

Address:
Price:
£12-£24, £8-£18. Runs 1hr 30min
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