The Gift – The Studio, Potterrow

Created and Choreographed by Natasha Gilmore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In a time of instant gratification and over-stimulation, we overlook the humble pleasantries of receiving nothing – nothing except the finest gift of all; an opportunity to use our imagination.

There are few excitements which re-ignite the imagination than those blurred festive bulbs twinkling on that morning with sleep-dusted eyes, but a bubbling energy which works its way to our limbs. Though, when we look back on it all, it isn’t the array of gifts and trinkets we remember – but the feeling of the ‘morning’, of the tingling, electrically infused air of expectation and giddiness.

And the whole thing starts with a box.

But what’s in it? Well, that’s the whole point of the thing; not to know. Because right up until it’s opened and then even after with the right notes of creativity, this hunk of reinforced paper can become a bird of paradise, a robot, the stars themselves, or the rainforests, even the vastness of the open ocean. If you can make it, if you can imagine it – Barrowland Ballet’s The Gift can conjure it. It is the perfect way to introduce eighteen months – five-year-olds (and indeed much, much older) to a realm of creation dance-based theatrics.

Creator and choreographer Natasha Gilmore transcend an issue with language by inserting only minor elements of dialogue – briefly enabling her to impart a long-forgotten innocence within Joanne Pirrie’s reactions as a small child, able to demonstrate joy, appreciation, and of course a pang of bitter confusion at some gifts. It’s a recognisable and sincere performance, which ebbs away when they are left alone with a mountain of paper waste. 

It all hinges on the phrase: ‘batteries not included” from the disembodied voice of their father with the promise of locating a set. This one line of dialogue sets up The Gift, for though Criag Fleing and Alberto Santos Bellido’s lighting plays a tremendous role, the vast majority of this rather sublime piece is mustered with momentum, imagination, and a collection of scraps; ribbons, boxes, tape, and paper.

But there might just be something else lurking beneath the recycling, as a box springs to life, quite unassuming, certainly without a sense of threat, its persistent chittering reinforces a more comedic origin. But it does have an end goal; consume every scrap of ribbon it might stumble upon. There’s an immediate sense of comedy carried through The Gift, with Rander Martins (within this gluttonous box) delivering much of the production’s humour. 

There’s an undercurrent within Gilmore’s comprehension of how attention works and the pauses and leaps within a child’s headspace. Communicated through Rander Martins and Pirrie’s movements which, though working off one another, often build into mighty crescendos before soothing back into whatever can be created next.

The minute details in character; one who perhaps has a penchant for unboxing everything in sight, of discovering what makes it all ‘tick’. Another hoarding the great mass of ribbon and wrapping surrounding them, a collector of sorts is communicated through Gilmore’s choreography; Alison Brown’s costume’s doing its part to aid in ease of movement, and in Martin’s case, elaborate their imaginative state.

Embracing Davey Anderson’s rhythmic score, which guides the pair across their journey, its percussive and pulsing melodies never over-excite or extends to whip up unnecessary drama. The physicality of it all may perhaps go unnoticed by some of the younger audiences, used to the extreme movements of cartoonish animation and cinema, but lurking within these boxes is the magnificent acrobatics and strength of Pirrie and Martin, who seamlessly tie their delightful entwinement and shared momentum fluidly through the narrative as they unpack both the wrappings and the adventure.

Simple and clean, the ingenuity of Ruben San Roman’s adaptation of Fred Pommerehn’s original set design is as unassuming as possible – a ladder of boxes piling high into The Studio ceiling; some wrapped, others bare. But from this, a series of surprises unfurl time and again, demonstrating not only its intelligent imagineering but the steadfast commitment and understanding of the entire team to deliver these snapshots of vision with sharpness and reliability to hold it all together.

Held together with paper and strings (the highest of compliments to the tenacity and craft of the design), everything here is accessible and likely to be sourced at home. And in a time where the financial implications of the season outweigh the pleasure of the event, to hear the wonder in so many voices as one of the final revelations unfolds – a model of what we’ve traversed through, raises a firmer and more innocent smile than any expense could match.

It all concludes with a strikingly touching and serene moment where the gifts themselves become the instruments – in an awestriking moment which sits as one of the most sincere and simplistically perfect moments of expression this year.

As custom with productions of a similar ilk, just as younger audiences gaze captivated and inspired, there’s that final spark as they are not only invited, but welcomed to the stage space to interact and obtain a tactile sense of feel and expression under the watchful eye of Pirrie and Martin who demonstrate a sincere and genuine adoration of offering a final gift to the audience.

An explosion of imagination and unadulterated emotion and glee, The Gift offers a gentle reminder of our wasteful nature and the instilled sense of want echoing on Christmas morning. Where the final ten minutes translate this bounding bundle of joy into something spectacularly touching, with a pure and simplistic message amidst the chaos. The Gift is precisely its namesake: a gift of theatre. A splendidly pure and clean production, Barrowland Ballet and Capital Theatres offer an introduction to the magic of dance and theatre and continue to offer audiences in Scotland the only thing we ask for this year – a gift which keeps on giving.

The Gift Which Keeps on Giving

The Gift runs at The Studio, Potterrow until January 4th.

Performed daily (not Sundays): 10.45am & 14.00pm
And on December 26th at 13.15pm & 16.30pm.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Andrew Perry


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