One of the biggest challenges for companies mounting al fresco site-specific productions – aside from the possible inclement weather – is finding ways to move the audience from A to B to C without disrupting the flow of action and then making sure enough happens in each new location to warrant the upheaval.
The Octagon’s first foray into Queen’s Park, co-directed by Ben Occhipinti and artistic director Elizabeth Newman, conjures up some striking, almost Dada-esque visuals – mostly involving a truly impressive 26ft puppet Gulliver. But a stop-start nature, combined with some ragged ensemble sections, featuring a small army of community players, and uneven storytelling means it doesn’t repay the audience’s exertions.
Like most adaptations of Swift’s satirical classic, Satinder Chohan and Mike Kenny’s script dispenses with Gulliver’s more outlandish adventures to focuses solely on the kiddie-friendly Lilliputian sections. But even these are pared back to find room for a framing device that sees a Bolton dad telling his daughter Betty (Michael Peavoy and Anne O’Riordan making an engaging double act) stories to make up for the fact that he’s never around. But this thread isn’t followed through consistently enough to make up for the lack of incident elsewhere, while a smattering of un-noteworthy songs and final plea to make peace not war feel similarly tacked on.
Things cohere a little more in the stronger second half, with the park’s amphitheatre providing an impressive backdrop for the finale, but – even at just under two hours – it’s a long haul, especially for the younger members of the audience that it is very firmly pitched at.