Oooh, tell me stories. Wrap me up in them, all snug and warm. Am I sitting comfortably? Then you’ll begin. After all, the story is where it all starts. History. The theatre. Society and civilisation. All built on stories. Is there anything more irresistible than the wayward adventurer, travelling back from foreign parts with flying saucer eyes and extravagant claims, telling tales to deceive the credulous. Baron von Munchausen. Phileas Fogg. Liz Truss. And the vast oceans are particularly brimming with stories to be told of strange lands and monsters from the deep. That’s what we look forward to in Gulliver, the latest from Box Tale Soup, a professional theatre company whose goal is to pack whole handmade worlds into a vintage trunk. And it is just what we get – three actors telling us stories of Gulliver’s travels through inventive use of a makeshift set, jolly sea shanties and masterly puppeteering.
Shiver me timbers this is rollicking good puppetry
Shiver me timbers this is rollicking good puppetry. Adam Boyle (Mr Claypole lookalike and seriously skilful Artistic Director of Bears & Vagabonds Productions) starts things off together with Game of Thrones actress Antonia Christophers, presenting us almost immediately with tiny Lilliputian puppet-folk, their breast plates seemingly made from leftover MacDonald's fries boxes. Then to the giants of Brobdingnag, whose King has lamps for eyes, a drum and trunk for nose and mouth, and wonderful half wheel eyebrows. Noel Byrne takes over, his mini Gulliver full of vulnerability and character. Who knew a bundle of white silk with beady black mouse-eyes could dance that funkily? Boyle then returns with another sumptuous glitterati of puppets. The Lord of the Laputa who thunders like Brian Blessed. "Gulliver's alive!" There are sandal monsters, a his and a hers. And the wonderful talking horse people of the Houyhnhnms, who have no word for lies and falsehoods, calling them instead “the thing that is not”. Have you been telling things that are not, Boris and Sir Tony? Sumptuous, skillful and inventive puppetry is definitely front and centre of what’s best in this show, as is the clever use of scenery throughout.
These master puppeteers create wonderful worlds and interesting natives for us to experience and enjoy. But in this production there is nobody you want to visit them with because the tour guide is a bit of a bore. Noel Byrne’s Gulliver is gloomy, his eyes grey. No buccaneering adventurer, this Gulliver is more ship’s doctor, sawing off legs and handing out laudanum as he darkly predicts another black night at sea, another dark journey of the soul. Give me a twinkly eyed adventurer to go along with and this Gulliver’s journey will be complete.