The Gift

Dec 20 2022 | By More

★★★★   Magical

The Studio: Sat 17 Dec – Wed 4 Jan 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Barrowland Ballet’s jewel of a dance theatre show, The Gift, is pitched perfectly towards its intended audience of eighteen months to five year olds.

Playing at the Festival Theatre’s Studio space on Potterrow until January 4 in a co-production with Capital Theatres, The Gift draws its audience in, knowing exactly how to entice them and when to let them have free reign.

Joanne Pirrie in The Gift. Pic: Andrew Perry

It starts, as does so much that intrigues, with a box. Or rather a pile of boxes. Some are brightly wrapped, some adorned with ribbon and some are plain cardboard, piled one on another as a ladder to the sky.

Of course dancer Joanne Pirrie is going to come bursting out of one of them. Jumping around, discovering where they all are, tearing off the paper and ribbons to create big arking shapes and eventually beginning to open them.

The discovery of what lies inside, the toys and lesser presents, is delightfully presented. Creator and choreographer Natasha Gilmore has the luxury of being able to be honest in her direction of Pirrie’s differing reactions, in a way we have forgotten as grownups who mask our feelings at disappointing presents.


If it is all rather brilliantly created, it takes another step out into the imagination when Pirrie discovers that her prize present of a model car is “batteries not included”. A disembodied voice promises to go looking for them and the stage is set for a different kind of exploration.

At first it is just Pirrie, playing with the empty boxes and the ribbons. But then a box comes to life, toddling across the stage like a dalek tortoise on tiptoes, and begins to consume the ribbons.

Rander Martins and Joanne Pirrie in The Gift. Pic: Andrew Perry

What can be in the box? Davey Anderson’s tuneful and rhythmic music and sound design ensure that it is surely not a threat. So when Rander Martins appears – eventually – is it hardly surprising that he is sporting a headpiece by costume designer Alison Brown that looks like a particularly alert King Charles Spaniel on its way to Carnival.

Where Pirrie wants to unpack everything, Martins just wants to hoard all the ribbons and wrapping paper. Their dancing around each other builds to climaxes and falls into lulls with yet more understanding of how a child’s concentration works.

delicious mayhem

Soon the pair are playing with the boxes, strapping them on their backs, using shoeboxes as skates and generally causing delicious mayhem.

Martins’ brilliant acrobatic work would be applauded to the roof in an adult environment, but here it is another part of the narrative as they go off on adventures. Turning into animals and birds, diving under the sea and finding more boxes of bells to create a delightful wee tune.

Rander Martins and Joanne Pirrie in The Gift. Pic: Andrew Perry

Finally Martins brings Pirrie his own present for her. A cardboard box which unfurls to reveal a tiny house – made of yet more boxes – with tiny figures so she can repeat their adventures as the soundtrack echoes what has gone before.

With all the tissue paper around, there has to be a moment as the show draws to its close when it gets thrown up into the air and suddenly it isn’t big sheets any more, but scraps of white paper fluttering down and those boxes you thought were just there as background are suddenly, magically transformed – glowing from the inside.

just so

The design of it all is just so. The space works brilliantly for both the young children on cushions and their grown-ups behind, the stage delineated by a row of boxes that are small enough to see over and be ignored; yet big enough to provide a barrier.

Joanne Pirrie playing at the end of The Gift with a young audience member. Pic: Andrew Perry

The set design, originally by Fred Pommerehn with adaption and design for this run by Ruben San Roman, provides revelation after revelation. It is not just clever in concept but impeccably delivered under Craig Fleming and Alberto Santos Bellido’s lighting.

At the end of it all there is just time enough for the lights to come up and the young audience members to jump around the stage with the actors, throwing the paper snow up in the air or twirling special ribbons around their heads.

The underlying meaning here, of a lonely young girl rejecting conformity to reach inside her imagination where she finds and releases all its colourful beauty, is gently realised. But more than anything else, it is a real treat of a show that can’t be recommended enough.

Running time: 50 minutes (including ten minutes playing on stage at the end)
The Studio, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL
Sat 17 Dec 2022 – Wed 4 Jan 2023
Daily, not Suns: 10.45am & 2pm (except Mon 26: 1.15pm & 4.30pm).
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Gift. Pic: Andrew Perry


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