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Gulliver's Travels (EIF)

By • West End
WOS Rating:

As international directors go, Silviu Purcărete has enjoyed a rather longer and more fruitful relationship with the Edinburgh International Festival than many. Plainly his brand of sumptuous stage-pictures and lavish set-pieces hit the spot for a lot of theatre-goers and critics alike.

However, while it's impossible to dispute that the man can sling together an impressive looking show, it's slightly harder to discern in this case the whys and wherefores of his having done so.

Whilst called Gulliver's Travels, what Purcărete offers here is a largely wordless assemblage of a good many of 1700s-satirist Jonathan Swift's greatest hits. I'm pretty sure there's a big nod to A Modest Proposal in there (the one where he suggests poor Irish folk should sell their children as food for the rich), alongside various hacked-up elements from Gulliver.

The piece opens promisingly enough with a bunch of performers dressed as horses (presumably the Houyhnhnms from the final part of the novel), only for the piece to start and for them be upstaged immediately by a real horse being brought on. It's a beautiful bit of theatrical bravura.

However, all the to-ing and fro-ing through this compendium of clippings - they remain firmly adrift from any of the things that they were actually satirising in the first place, and suffer from the failure to put in place any substitute arc - means that the piece just winds up as a miasma of misanthropy.

The individual scenes are frequently cleverly handled, and often quite funny, but the novelty soon wears off and you find yourself wanting a bit more intellectual sustenance. Why should we be accepting these 300-year-old squibs? What makes this depressing vision of an olde worlde pertinent?

It feels curiously as if Purcărete has come to bury Swift as a grumpy old man from history, not to praise him. As such, this is a curious exercise in visually splendid literary disparagement. If, on the other hand, this is meant to say anything about the world we now live in, then I can't help thinking we need a bit more saying why.

- Andrew Haydon


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