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Gulliver’s Travels - EIF 2012


Kings Theatre
4 stars
The women who whinny and canter like horses as the audience enter are a 
striking introduction to Romanian maestro Silviu Purcarete’s 
impressionistic interpretation of Jonathan Swift’s great satirical 
novel. It’s as if they’re higher beings on a catwalk, tantalisingly 
untouchable but irresistible too. The fact that this image of Swift’s 
Houyhnhnms is almost immediately upstaged by something even greater 
speaks volumes about Purcarete’s power to impress, even as the feral 
Yahoos – human beings in their basest form – move in en masse.

Taking the fourth book of Swift’s epic as his starting point, Purcarete 
maps out an absurd nightmare portrait of man’s inhumanity to man 
through two figures bookending the ages. As an old man is carted off to 
an institution, his storybook left behind, a little boy rides in on a 
wooden horse to pick up the pages. With the child onstage throughout, 
it’s as if the series of extravagant tableaux and ensemble-based 
sketches that follow are extracted from his imagination.

Babies are hammered to death and their innards served up as exotic 
delicacies. Giant rats scuttle about like a comic double-act. 
Bowler-hatted men in shadow attempt in vain to be bigger than they are. 
A puppet prostitute meets her match before she and her suitors depart 
with a miniature Can Can. Men in suits march in regimented unison like 
penguins before regressing into a primeval horde.

With barely a word spoken onstage other than a recorded narration, such 
audacious stage-play is pulsed along by Shaun Davey’s vivid minimalist 
score. Awash with and melancholy in equal measure, as the boy and the 
old man’s voyage ends, there’s an acceptance of life’s ugliness, even 
as the possibilities beyond await.

The Herald, August 18th 2012

ends



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