BRAY-BASED theatre company Wonderland Productions comes to the Town Hall Theatre next week with its acclaimed staging of Jonathan Swift’s classic of adventure and satire, Gulliver’s Travels,
Swift’s novel charts how, after Gulliver is shipwrecked, he travels to extraordinary countries and experiences fantastical adventures. The book is full of sharp wit, boisterous comedy, and wonderful fantasy, and Swift’s storytelling talent ensured his work became an instant classic, loved by children and adults alike. As John Gay remarked in a 1726 letter to Swift, soon after the novel was first published, “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery.”
Wonderland’s ensemble cast of five bring this classic to life, playing multiple roles and enlivening their characters with costume, physical theatre, inventive design, live music, and puppetry. They invite their audience to imagine the giants of Brobdingnag and the tiny Lilliputians, talking horses and scenes of shipwreck.
The production, which premiered in December at Bray’s Mermaid Arts Centre, where Wonderland is the resident company, has been lavishly praised by reviewers. Irish Theatre Magazine declared it “hugely ambitious…eye-catching…impressive”. The Sunday Tribune said it was “fast-moving…funny…the audience really feel part of our hero’s journey” and DublinCulture.ie noted that “the audience were enraptured, children, and adults alike.”
Gulliver’s Travels is adapted and directed by Wonderland’s artistic director Alice Coghlan and, over an afternoon phone call, she described how Wonderland tackled bringing the story to the stage.
“It was a challenge adapting it for the stage,” she acknowledges. “We use 25 puppets, and masks and also shadow puppetry to help depict the various incidents in the book. So for instance when Gulliver is seized by a giant eagle we can use puppetry to portray that.
“Also, the actors have to take on multiple roles; one cast member plays 15 different roles in the show. Another challenge is the language; Swift’s language is closer to that of Shakespeare than modern-day English so we had to change that a lot so as to make it accessible to our audience.”
How did Coghlan address the balance between having the show appealing to adults and to children?
“We aimed for it to appeal to both,” she states. “We took out those bits we felt would only appeal to adults. You don’t want a distracted child in the audience because they can end up distracting everyone else. We probably only use about 10 per cent of the book; we went for the parts that were very visual and physical rather than those sections where the characters are just discussing politics.”
“It’s very much an epic. It’s very bawdy in parts. Kids really seem to enjoy the Yahoos and the actors enjoy playing them. There are also nasty pirates and some kind of miracle seems to happen every couple of pages so there’s lots to keep the audience entertained.”
The cast features Nathan Gordon (Gulliver ), Fra Gunn, Roseanne Lynch, Sarah Kinlen, and Graham Singleton while set, props and puppetry design is by Emma Fisher.
Gulliver’s Travels is at the Town Hall on Wednesday March 23 and Thursday 24 at 8pm. Tickets are available on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie