Gulliver's Travels

National Youth Theatre (NAYD) presents 'Gulliver's Travels' adapted for stage by Conall Morrison. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

National Youth Theatre (NAYD) presents 'Gulliver's Travels' adapted for stage by Conall Morrison. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

National Youth Theatre (NAYD) presents 'Gulliver's Travels' adapted for stage by Conall Morrison. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

National Youth Theatre (NAYD) presents 'Gulliver's Travels' adapted for stage by Conall Morrison. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

A group of unruly teens are disrupting a performance before it has even had a chance to begin. They are laughing, talking loudly, checking their mobile phones, and teasing the be-wigged compère (Conor Lenihan) with sniggers and the breaking of wind. As he takes a seat at the piano stool for a recital of the work of George Fredric Handel, peer and sometime enemy of Jonathan Swift, the ghost of Swift himself appears, berating the teens as a bunch of Yahoos. And it is true, the behaviour of the teens does mimic that of Swift’s most memorable creations, the deformed savages of the Houyhnhnms, whose name lives on in contemporary slang.

Photo: Ros KavanaghThere is much in this National Youth Theatre production that finds Swift’s eighteenth-century satirical masterpiece resonant with contemporary life. Gulliver’s ironic descriptions of political systems in both his native land and the countries he lands in on his travels are particularly enjoyable. However, Morrison’s adaptation has been carved from the original material with a specific demographic in mind: the cast of 16 teenagers who he has been working with in creating this vividly performed ensemble piece. To that end Morrison milks Swift’s corporeal preoccupations for all they are worth in a series of gross-out jokes that would not be amiss in American Pie. Bottom-belching, flashed genitalia, snot and stinking urine; how could a teen not LOVE material like this? (Making literal the description of Gulliver’s descending turds via video design, however, is really a step too far.)

The production style, meanwhile, is pacy and restless, condensing Swift’s book into its three most vital episodes: Gulliver’s arrival in Lilliput, his journey to Brobdingnag, and his final voyage home. This gives Morrison and his professional and adolescent collaborators an opportunity to play with scale, and they rise to the challenge with admirable inventiveness. They use live video projection and puppets as effective representative tools, and the post-dramatic nature of the production’s set-up allows us to suspend our disbelief. We see the actors enter and exit from the wings, occasionally from the stalls, and the young actors are confident in this approach, as well as in their relationship with one another and the auditorium at large.

Photo: Ros KavanaghThe mission of the National Youth Theatre is to give youth theatre members from around the country an opportunity to work with professional practitioners, and to this end Morrison has ensured that the ensemble members have been given a wide-ranging introduction to the contemporary experience of making theatre and its post-modern snatch and grab style. The influences detected are as wide as Elevator Repair Service (whose signature production of Gatz has become the de rigueur way of representing the act of reading on stage) and Brokentalkers (incidentally, Gary Keegan is the current Artistic Director of Dublin Youth Theatre).

The most important aspect of these multifarious styles, however, is the way in which they stretch the cast physically, vocally and imaginatively. The performers are not just actors. They are stage managers and puppeteers. They provide the soundtrack (with the help of Conor Lenihan), and create a live feed that is projected against the backdrop for a vivid recreation of Gulliver’s gigantism in Lilliput. There are some opportunities for solo glory (the slight James O’Neill makes for a charming, if unlikely, Gulliver), but the ensemble ethos is embraced by the young cast with gusto, and they are equally as happy to carry another cast member across the stage or create a piece of furniture with their limbs.

Over the years, the National Youth Theatre has nurtured young Irish talent and many of their alumni have gone on to greater things. The class of 2013 are sure to follow suit.

Sara Keating writes about theatre for The Irish Times and The Sunday Business Post.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, adapted for stage by Conall Morrison

28 - 31 August 2013

Produced by National Youth Theatre, in association with the Everyman Theatre
In Abbey Theatre (Peacock stage)

Directed and Adapted by Conall Morrison

Music & Sound Director: Conor Linehan

Set & Costume Design: Liam Doona

Video & Lighting Design: John Comiskey

Choreographer: Muirne Bloomer

With: Luke Casserly, Kevin Creedon, Aoife DeFaoite, Éanna Hardwicke, Gráinne Holmes Blumenthal, Adrian McCarthy, Davin McGowan, Amy Monaghan, Conor Murray, Megan O’Brien, Katie O’Byrne, Madeleine O’Carroll, Aoife O’Connor, James O’Neill, Shannon Smythe, Christopher Walley.

Featuring Conor Linehan as George Frederik Handel


Also runs at the Everyman Theatre, Cork from 5-7 Sept, 2013