Gulliver’s Travels was performed by Youth Music Theatre at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
When it was first seen at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre two years ago, Gulliver’s Travels provided a fresh, vital take on Jonathan Swift’s comically caustic story of adventures in strange lands. Returning with a new cast, a partly re-worked script and some new musical material, the revival can boast comparable levels of energy but something has been lost in the interim.
In a production that seems unnecessarily busy, the evening’s headlong pace leaves little room for detailed characterisation, dilutes the satirical bite of the original and seems not a little confusing.
It isn’t helped by a back-screen projection that is all but washed out by lighting, with the otherwise clever use of hand-held camera close-ups of Gulliver failing to describe the intended contrasts in scale between the ship-wrecked hero and the miniature and massive beings he encounters.
Considerably more successful is the simple device of up-lighting bodies to cast gargantuan shadows.
Despite the revisions, Des Kennedy’s revival conducts itself with considerably less confidence in the material to create a helter-skelter ride of an evening in which the pace never lets up and veers too often into the frenetic.
In the midst of the chaos are some strong performances, notably the yearning if somewhat solid and self-contained Gulliver of Tomo McSorley; Finlay Balfour’s imposingly stern ship’s captain, Prichard; and Erin Ryder’s surprisingly mature and vividly sung Empress of Blefuscu.
The proud, preening equine Houyhnhnms – strikingly costumed in glamorous bustle dresses – makes an especially strong impression, too, with Danny Vaugh III’s Necromancer impactful but distractingly jittery.
Palpable zeal and enthusiasm all round produces some fine ensemble singing and admirably executed dance and movement routines, but the generally rushed pace and adrenalised gusto of performances creates problems with diction and projection to cloud a narrative already packed to the gills with incident and colour.
It all but lost the six-year-old I took and rendered the 10-year-old as bewildered as Gulliver’s encounters left him, though both enjoyed the episodes of pantomimic silliness and left humming a couple of tunes from Duke Special’s characterful and eclectic score.