Literary classic Gulliver's Travels was actually conceived as an attack on politics, war, science and the law. The author, Jonathan Swift, would have relished the irony that his satire ended up being a beloved children's fantasy.
Group K's latest - Presto (Or The Secret Life of Swift and Gulliver) - takes a look at the man behind the book and attempts to delve into his brain by mixing the past and present, public and private, reality and fantasy.
Patrick Kealer - the devised piece's originator and director - attempts to push out the boundaries and create groundbreaking and challenging theatre. Unfortunately, whilst Presto is quite fresh in its approach, you can't help feeling, when watching it, that the cast are enjoying themselves far more than the audience. You'd also have to swap the adjective 'challenging' for 'lacking in insight' as a descriptor, as we're actually given very little background information on Swift and certainly nothing to hook into emotionally.
Banging drums, outbursts of song, surreal imagery, fake excrement, and plasticine 'little people' all jostle for attention and shock value on an overcrowded stage of ideas. There's the distinct sense that the cast have been told by Kealer 'anything goes.' But rather than freeing the performers, this dictum restricts them, as the material simply isn't up to the mark. Disabled actor Mat Fraser - playing the intelligent but flawed Swift on the eve of a tribunal to assess his sanity and mental competence - does his best to deliver an authoritative portrait of a complex character, but it's an uphill battle with such a poor script.
There are a few comic moments to be had. The scenes involving the scientists - Lukas Angelini, Julia Righton, Rachael Spence] and James Traherne - raise the odd laugh, but they only stand out because of the slow, overblown and incomprehensible nature of the whole.
On the plus side, Simon Doe and Tom Cotteril's set - consisting of pillows, cupboards and a microphone - works wonders to metamorphose into a bed, a throne and even a toilet. Still, it's not enough to prevent Presto from being a mind-numbing experience that leaves the audience unmoved, unsatisfied and plainly puzzled as to what on earth had just gone on.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at Manchester's Royal Exchange)