NCPA, Beijing    


In a manner reminiscent of the way the Young Vic chipped off the sugar coating from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The International Theatre Company, London, has craftily restored Gulliver’s Travels. The stage adaptation by Paul Stebbings and Phil Smith draws on all four parts of the original novel; Gulliver is no longer the tale of a gentle giant, but once again the gutsy social and political satire full of period earthiness.

To a territory were Laputa is better known as a cute Japanese feature cartoon, Stebbings has brought a sharp satire of a bad world. A world of ethnic cleansing houyhnhnms, with notions of racial superiority as contemporary backdrop.

The performance had a bare, in-your-face London feel, somewhat at odds with plush ambience of the APA theatre. There were no elaborate sets or hi-tech tricks. What the audience got was high energy, high-quality acting complemented by vivid props and costumes and a series of ingenious but ultimately simple effects – Gulliver on stilts in the land of the Lilliputians and then the only on not on them in Brodingnag.

Particularly effective was the image of a long legged Gulliver against a simple curtained backdrop which produced a wonderful illusion of Gulliver asleep on the sand. The houyhnhnms in their chesspiece horse heads walking proudly to the clack of coconut shells were in chilling contrast to the neanderthal hideousness of the yahoos. Interspersed with songs and forays into the audience this production set a cracking pace, yet the diction was always clear, the language buttressed by action, this was ideal theatre.