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Gulliver Returns review at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh – ‘inventive expansion of Swift’s novel’

Dawn State Theatre's Gulliver Returns. Photo: Karla Gowlett Dawn State Theatre's Gulliver Returns. Photo: Karla Gowlett
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As Lil points out at the beginning of this startling reinterpretation of Jonathan Swift’s satire, the only bit of Gulliver’s Travels people really know is the “bit with the little people”.

Her husband Adam, who has become engrossed in Swift’s world and believes he is Lemuel Gulliver, for painful reasons that become clear, is more fixated on other bits of the book: the savage, uncivilised Yahoos and the other merciless worlds Gulliver travels to.

This interpretation of Swift’s book by Dawn State, which specialises in work inspired by classic texts, all starts out rather silly and playful. Lil explains to the audience that there’s something wrong with Adam and asks us to indulge him as he re-enacts bits of the book. Teddy-bears and cuddly toys play the Lilliputians, and there’s a beautiful polygonal horse puppet for the Houyhnhnms.

But it gradually gets darker as we find out why Adam thinks he’s Gulliver, and why he thinks his wife is a Yahoo.

Jack Bence gives an impassioned performance as Adam/Gulliver, devastating and draining by the end, while Conneff’s Lil is a great chameleon playing both Adam’s wife and all the other characters in the book.

In moving beyond the bounds of the book Dan Coleman can probe its outdated values – especially its misogyny – but the piece never quite makes clear why this book in this form.

 

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Verdict
Inventive expansion of Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century novel by Dawn State Theatre
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