“World class” Barrowland Ballet’s, The Gift is one of the finest shows gracing a stage anywhere in the world this festive season. Yes, you read that right: the world.
📅 Sat 17 Dec 2022 to Wed 4 Jan 2023
💷 From £12.50
🕖 Various times: See Tickets & Dates tab for full details
🕖 Running time (approx.): 50 minutes
👍 Produced by: Barrowland Ballet
🎬 Creator & Choreographer: Natasha Gilmore
🎵 Composer & Sound Designer: Davey Anderson
🔨 Original Set Designer: Fred Pommerehn
⚒️ Adaptation Set Designer: Ruben San Roman
🗣️ Performers: Joanne Pirrie & Rander Martins
🎭 Wheelchair Accessible Venue, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets, Audio Induction Loop
This will be a short review, perfection needs little nuance and even less sensitivity in its description.
A dance show celebrating the annual celebration of cardboard boxes otherwise known as Christmas morning, The Gift doesn’t run with its concept; no, it leaps with it.
Joanne Pirrie opens the show, a little girl opening her presents, but no sooner has she run foul of a toy with ‘batteries not included’, than her imagination has begun to form plans for the many empty boxes, and discarded ribbons strewn about her. Cue the appearance of Rander Martins, a packaging obsessed avatar of her imagination, and thereafter, a series of utterly delightful adventures.
It’s a simple idea, extraordinarily executed, rich in comedy, and abounding in wonder. The two capoeiristas are ideal in their roles, overflowing with energy, and inch perfect in an effortlessly coordinated tumbling dance. They make fine art of costumed silliness, whilst executing the most acrobatic of manoeuvres with the most casual of arch-competence.
Natasha Gilmore, however, not content with mere technical excellence, sets about painting an absorbing story, which begins with a ribbon-eating cardboard box, and crescendos with adventures on the high seas, and on the shores of remote tropical idles. Our two adventurers sell every moment, Pirrie a wide-eyed, ever more delighted innocent, Martins an immensely amiable, and sympathetic alien. Think Mork & Mindy meets Cirque du Soleil.
There’s little dialogue, and only one lyricised song, and in that lies an immense power. The same power channelled by pierrots for centuries to invite watchers of any age to invest in proceedings. However there is a magical soundtrack thanks to Davey Anderson, whose rhythmically diverse melodies and themes drive, and reflect the story. Exploring the Brazilian roots of the show, it’s uplifting to find the 3-2 beat of the clave, and other Latin American rhythms woven throughout a mesmeric, charming soundscape.
Set designers Fred Pommerehn and Ruben San Roman provide a joyful set, exploring the limits of packaging materials to create a rich, ever-evolving world for the two dancers to explore. Kudos are due to lighting designers, Craig Fleming & Alberto Santos Bellido for several astonishing moments, making sleeping towns of erstwhile inert materials, and sparkling worlds within unprepossessing boxes. This is certainly a show reliant on a shared imagination between performers and audience, but these little moments of design wizardry offer juicy cherries to top the cake.
And there’s more: The Gift is suffused with humour. Not pleasantry, not nicety, but honest to goodness, laugh out loud humour. From the little cries of joy as the cardboard box eats ribbons, to the resolutely non-apologetic Martin’s statements of ‘mine’ upon seeing any and all packaging, there’s just so much fun. Even much of the dancing, whilst skilled, is overtly funny. Making dance funny is hard, very hard – if it weren’t, more companies would do it. When The Gift isn’t seeking laughs, it still sparkles with overwhelming likeability. It’s the same feeling as meeting an old, dear friend, a re-awakening of the heart.
So there you have it. The Gift is technically superb, narratively charming, beautifully staged, and genuinely funny. However the proof of the pudding must lie in the reaction of the show’s core target audience. Reader, the gathered children when the The QR stopped in were spellbound from start to end. They bopped with the music, made endless ‘oh’ noises, and peppered the air not with distracted chatter or complaints, but muted cries of ‘wow!
No doubt that youthful audience were lost to the same spine-tingling joy that this reviewer experienced. Which hints at the final compliment this review will pay before ending this appalling display of adulation. The Gift is a heartfelt love letter to the childish capacity for imagination, a capacity not inevitably lost upon growing up. When the adventures slow for moments of gentler amazement, The QR dares audience members of every age not to feel their hearts swell with happiness.
The Gift might be intended for audiences of 2-5 years of age, but in truth this is world-class storytelling, wrought in amazing dance, and played to a magical beat. No matter your age, go and see this gem of a show. It is, without doubt, one of the finest festive offerings on stage anywhere on the globe this year. 5 stars aren’t enough to capture the sheer excellence of Barrowland Ballet’s creation. Personally speaking, the last time the editor of The QR left a show quite as charmed was when rising from his seat at Hamilton. Even Hamilton, however, doesn’t end by inviting children in the audience to join the cast on stage to play with the set, and dance beneath falling snow.
The Gift, you see is very honest in what it is: a gift.
Photography Credits: Andrew Perry )