Gulliver Returns (4 stars)

Gulliver Returns

credit: Karla Gowlett

Mental health explored through a classic novel

Dawn State Theatre Company have ripped up Jonathan Swift's classic satire and used it as a stimulus to explore madness, desperation and the lengths we will go to return to the ones we love.

The issue for Lil is not the distance from her husband Adam, but that after a mysterious tragedy he has had a breakdown, eschewing his own name and taking up the role and cause of Lemuel Gulliver. What should be a silly tale, full of miniscule Lilliputians and talking horses – the Houyhnhnms – is, instead, a harrowing hour of intensity paired with excellent performances. Lil tentatively thanks the audience for coming and warns us that having Lemuel formally lecture on his supposed adventures may be harrowing but it is clear no matter what stories he intends to regale, Lil has already suffered worse.

The damp cavern of Underbelly's Big Belly venue is filled with Julian Starr's murky score, and the soundtrack helps to conjure a feeling of almost Lovecraftian madness. The show's main attraction, without doubt, is the infinitely watchable cast. Jack Bence as Lemuel/Adam is fascinating to watch and never strays into campy, fake craziness – he really does believe he has met giants, miniature people and talking horses.

But it is Cathy Conneff as suffering wife Lil who steals the show. Her pain is visible every time she is dismissed as 'madam', and her increasing desperation as she forces herself to act out her husband's delusions in an attempt to bring him back from the depths of insanity, provides the show's emotional core. This is not a tale with many answers or morals but it is a wonderful character study and a great hour of theatrical heft.

Underbelly, until 26 Aug, 2pm, £7–£11 (£9–£10).

Gulliver Returns

  • 4 stars

Dawn State Theatre Company Lil's husband is lost in Gulliver's Travels and now she has a mission of mercy to perform. No matter what the cost, she must find a way to drag this broken man out of his fantasy. She must find a way to bring him home. A haunting new play about broken dreams, enduring love, and the weird…

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