4 stars ****
THEY CALL IT Gulliver’s Travels, this fierce and sometimes luminous 80 minutes of performance from Silviu Purcarete’s acclaimed Radu Stanca Theatre of Romania. In truth, though, it seems more like an image-led journey around the troubled mind of Gulliver’s author Jonathan Swift, the great 18th century satirist, represented here both by a mountainous wheelchair-bound image of his dying self, and by a little wide-eyed boy, his younger alter ego.
Set on an open stage that seems like a seashore washed with light – yet is transformed in a trice, by the nineteen-strong company, into a hospital ward or a squalid city street – Purcarete’s show is mainly inspired by part four of the novel, in which Swift learns to admire the noble race of horses who rule the land he visits, and to despise the ape-like Yahoos, a barely-veiled caricature of the human race at its worst.
In exploring Swift’s anguished sense of himself as a member of this foul species, Purcarete descends into the depths of his imagination; his horrified accounts of battle, his satirical suggestion that the Irish should sell their babies for human consumption, and – above all – his fierce sexual disgust, expressed partly through his ironic ode to a disease-ridden Drury Lane prostitute. Yet with the unmistakable voice-over of former Edinburgh bishop Richard Holloway reading the words of the older Swift, this powerfully choreographed show emerges as a remarkable and sometimes beautiful 21st century tribute to a long-dead writer who fully anticipated the post-human self-disgust of our age; and expressed it with a fierce, surreal imagination that has never been surpassed, in 300 years.
Until 19 August
EIF p. 13