Arts

A theatrical sequel to Gulliver's travels

Gulliver is on his travels once again, this time on a madcap theatrical adventure where he and his family learn to live together in a strange new world. Jenny Lee chats to the writers who have turned the classic tale on its head

Taking a break from rehearsals for Gulliver, the new comedy by Big Telly Theatre Company and the MAC, are Gulliver (actor Bryan Quinn) and the Lilliputians.

JONATHAN Swift's 1726 tale of Gulliver's 25 years of exploring may be part of literary history, but we've known precious little about Gulliver's long-suffering family – until now.

“It's about what happens when you put a normal family in a ridiculous situation," says writer and director Zoe Seaton of Gulliver, Big Telly Theatre Company's latest production.

From invasions by little people, to a new baby with interesting developmental traits, Gulliver and his family have to learn to live together in a strange new world in this grown-up comedy, which could be described as the sequel to Gulliver's Travels.

“We read Gulliver's Travel and we loved all the stories, the visual aspects, the satire and all of that, but we were also really interested in what Jonathan Swift didn't write about – Gulliver's return home to his family after his travels,” says co-writer Shelley Atkinson, who also plays the role of Gulliver's wife in the piece.

In their research, Zoe and Shelley were amazed to discover that Gulliver only spent nine months at home out of a total of 25 years.

For this production they concentrate upon Gulliver's return from the Hauyhnhnms, where he was a member of a horse's household amid the race of talking horses. So, having already heard about the giants, tiny people, floating islands and outlandish inventions, Gulliver's family now have to cope with him being half horse, half man.

“In the book, Gulliver says: 'When I came back from the land of the horses I wanted to be a horse. I thought that was the only way to be. I thought that was the future'. We start our play when he gets home from his fourth trip and explore his decision to embrace this concept of a world ruled by horses and how it affects others," explains Zoe.

“We took the theme of having to be rehabilitated when you came back from somewhere because you were made believe your way of life is valueless. Gulliver's way of life happens to be horse, which is merely a symbol of otherness.

"It could be believing that being a vegetarian, being a Christian or being in a cult is the best way. In this respect, I guess it has strong connotation's for us who live in a very religious focused environment.”

Like Swift's novel, Gulliver is a satire on human nature but, as in all Big Telly productions, it reflects upon Northern Ireland society.

“The play is about identity here and away and how you reinvent yourself, and within a Northern Ireland perspective we were keen to explore the issue of identity as a trap," Zoe says.

"I think there is a thing in this island about how we feel about going away and if they come back is that a sign of failure. Some are more honest about their experience away and others, like Gulliver, are not."

The story is told through flash-back scenes from the main protagonist's travels through to the present tense as he tries to impose a new regime of horse upon anyone who'll listen.

There is a contemporary feel to the production as it fuses traditional theatrical techniques with music, dance and multi-media.

“We're working closely with a fight choreographer, film-maker and composer to make a piece of theatre which is visual and action packed, contains satire and wit, and lots of laugh out loud moments,” says Zoe.

The show also stars Bryan Quinn (Gulliver), Patrick J O'Reilly (son Johnny), Nicky Harley (daughter Betty), Helen Roche (granny) and Brendan Conroy (Jim) and a robot playing the role of Gulliver's other daughter Tracey.

:: Gulliver is at the MAC, Belfast, from September 29 to October 17. Tickets on sale at themaclive.com. This will be followed by a tour of Ireland and Britain – for full details visit www.big-telly.com.

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