A review by Amrita Chatterjee for EXTRA! EXTRA!
The Gift is essentially a tale of friendship and redemption. Two lonely men find themselves somewhere in the Irish countryside, with nothing to look forward to and no one, apart from each other. They cautiously seek one another’s company and friendship, first through stories, then through generous helpings of whiskey, and in the process, somewhere between the ghosts of their past and present, they discover their only way to salvation.
Walking into the theatre, I was enveloped in the strange sort of warmth that only greets you on a cold, freezing morning, despite a bright sun, when one sees the light and their brain tells you it’s warm, though in reality, it’s not. Yet, a slight crispness in the air lends itself to the supernatural elements of the play. That’s exactly the feeling that the set and light design of Lili Barcroft and Ben Shaw manages to recreate for this production. It also brilliantly re-creates the interiors of a house that might be somewhere in the wilderness of the Irish countryside. The yellow and ochre in the lighting and the texture of the wooden furniture induces a sense of life on stage, a certain lived in quality that is worn, yet comfortable. One must applaud Barcroft and Shaw for putting some serious thought and effort into the design. It really lifts the play up and makes it all the more special. Stephen du Toit also does a good job with the costumes, with attention to little details like a missing button or a scuffed collar which make all the difference and enable the characters to acquire a sharper personality.
Credit for the aforementioned details should also go to the director Dimitry Devdariani and writer/producer Eamon McDonnell who clearly shared a common vision with regards to the mood and setting of the play. Devdariani really does justice to McDonnell’s writing and helps bring the text to life by directing this production with immense clarity and visual definition. The sense of balance on stage between the characters is always maintained, as well as the different levels that denote the two planes on which the characters basically exist. The difference between the living and the dead is brought out very subtly via the physicality of the actors. And with a subject matter like memories and past life, there is a big danger of succumbing to excessive melodrama, yet Devdariani surely manages to sidestep that.
McDonnell’s writing in itself is good, as his characters come across as deceptively real in spite of their other worldly intrusions. The dialogue is more fluid and sound than authentic, perhaps a bit too much at times, when coupled with the thick Irish accent. Occasionally it gets to a point where it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what’s going on. But the camaraderie between Ned and Callum, the two men in the play, owes its freshness and depth not only to the acting but to the real, funny yet painful banter that is the creation of McDonnell.
In terms of acting, I must say that this play belongs to Ned Bash, played brilliantly by Christopher Prior. Bash stole my heart within the first few minutes and made it impossible to give half as much attention to anyone else. To be fair on the rest of the cast, in hindsight I’d say that each actor give outstanding performances. Philip Philmar as Callum is dark, mysterious, a man with a past yet a big heart. Georgina Bryce as Brid Bash, Ned’s wife, balances the loving wife routine with the right amount of unhinged wantonness. Victoria Johnston as Connie, the woman from Callum’s past is perhaps a bit more aggressive than necessary but she forms a good contrast to the other characters and adds a judicious amount of colour to the stage. There is excellent chemistry among the four characters and between them they provide a good rhythm and pace to the performance. But nevertheless it is Bash as Christopher Prior that you want to watch, as his stories that interest you the most, every word uttered from his lips rings true, and his every little gesture and silly superstitious belief endears his character to you even more.
Watching this production may not have changed my world, but I certainly didn’t come out of the theatre bemoaning the loss of a good hour. Thus, I think it fair to say that I really enjoyed watching The Gift and so might you. You’ll have to hurry though, as this production ends on November 8th.