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Gulliver's Travels
Photo credit @ Marc Brenner

Interview: Exploring far flung lands with Lulu Raczka

Writer Lulu Raczka on reworking of the classic Gulliver’s Travels for a new younger audience

The Unicorn Theatre is inviting us on an epic, exciting adventure for ages 7+ this Easter, in the somewhat surreal world of Gulliver’s Travels. This production is a radical reimagining of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel. Just like in the original we get to look at our world from new perspectives, but now we have a whole host of new and interesting ways to do so. Everything Theatre asked writer Lulu Raczka tell us a bit more about what to expect.

So Lulu, in this production Lemuel Gulliver is recast from an 18th-century, average man, who encounters strange lands and peculiar people after being shipwrecked, to a 21st-century girl who desperately wants to escape her home life. They seem radically different. How can such an old novel give insight into our modern world?

Jonathan Swift wrote a book in which a man travels through multiple societies that are very different from his, and from which he is very different. Some value intellect above all, some strength: in some Gulliver is giant and powerful, in some tiny and insignificant. All of these different societies make us reflect on our own – what do we value, and what should we value? And what’s our place within the world? Are we powerful? And if we are, what do we do with that power? Though the specifics are different, the fundamental questions Swift asks are as important in the 21st Century as they were in the 18th. In terms of making Gulliver a teenage girl, we thought that as anyone can ask these big questions, and everyone should, why not make our Gulliver more reflect the young people we were making the show for?

Are you still planning to take your audience to new and extraordinary places, like in the book, seeing the world differently?

We have been very ambitious, and tried to put most of the book on stage! So through the unbelievable talent of the cast and design team, we’ll see Gulliver be giant amongst the Lilliputians, be tiny in Brobdingnag, chat to the mathematicians and scientists in Laputa, and be the only human amongst the Houyhnhnms, the sentient horses. Hopefully after this, the audience will see the world a little differently!

You have a great team of creatives on board and I’m particularly excited to experience the sound design by the amazing Ringham brothers. How has it been working with such diverse talents? Have you found new possibilities have emerged from these interesting collaborations?

The show would never have been possible without such close collaboration with the design team, most of whom have been on board since the first morning of the first workshop. Though it’s always true that collaboration is necessary to create great theatre, usually the script is written first, with the design teams hired later; and sometimes the writer doesn’t interact with the design team at all. This couldn’t happen here. Jaz and I needed to know what was actually possible, so before a word was written we were planning with Rosie, Jess, Ben, Max and Jack, and now continue that with Owen, Josh and Jack. This is such a great way to work – and I hope I’ll be able to do it more in the future!

The show was delayed for ages by the pandemic, so it must feel great to be finally getting it on stage. Has it changed much since it was originally devised? Has anything unexpected emerged from the pause?

It hasn’t changed that much really, except for one scene. There’s a section in the book in which Gulliver interacts with famous people from the past, and so in our show, our Gulliver talks to Winston Churchill. The scene was always condemning him, but the conversations that have occurred in the last few years about racism, and how we discuss it, made us rethink how we went about condemning him. It’s not a massive change, but a very important one.

We’re promised laughter, playfulness and invention, all of which are great reasons to see the show, but apart from being a fun entertainment for the Easter hols, is this a production that challenges young audiences to think about particular themes?

I think underneath all the silliness there’s some pretty big themes. The book asks big questions about how we relate to the world around us, and about the kind of world we want to live in, and I hope our show has brought these thoughts alive. In our show we’ve added a framing device of Gulliver entering the world of the book to escape a difficult situation at home, so we’re also asking questions about the function of storytelling, and the place of imagination.

What do you hope that the audience members will take away from their experience?

I hope they think about all the big ideas, but I also hope they have fun on the bus home wondering what they’d do if they were really, really tiny.

Thanks so much to Lulu for taking time to chat with us. We’ll be reviewing the play soon, so watch this space to find out more about it!

Gulliver’s Travels is a Unicorn Production, and is playing now until Saturday 16 April. Tickets start from £8 for under 18s, and £14 for adults. Further information and booking via the below link.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.

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