REVIEW: The Gift (Auckland Theatre Company)

Sarah Peirse and Marshall Napier in The Gift. Photo by Michael Smith.

The Gift of the gab [by Sharu Delilkan]

Sarah Peirse and Marshall Napier in The Gift. Photo by Michael Smith.

“Wow!” was all we could say when we saw the striking set as we walked into the Maidment Theatre.

A Rubiks-like upholstered grid with minimal cube props for tables and seats is the genius creation of set designer Rachael Walker. This style is repeated behind as a backdrop with the whole set raked at odd angles, which set the scene for the quirky story that follows.

I particularly liked the versatility of the shapes, which reminded me of Lego pieces, allowing them to make any configuration they required.

The story opens with an aside to the audience by Sadie (Sarah Peirse), setting the stage perfectly, while inducing laughter from the audience from the get-go.

We are very cleverly introduced to the four main characters – a wealthy middle-aged childless couple Sadie (Sarah Peirse) and her politically incorrect husband Ed (Marshall Napier) who meet bohemian conceptual artist Martin (Simon London) and his journalist wife Chloë (Laura Hill). What transpires after this chance meeting at a holiday resort is nothing short of intriguing and alarming.

Joanna Murray-Smith’s spiky dialogue in this world premiere of The Gift is riddled with humour. This includes lines like “People can do without art – you can just have a wall”, “Impressionists – it’s amazing what they can do with a dot”, “He seems younger now – he uses words like ‘awesome’” and “I am supporting you fully in your self-condemnation”.

Murray-Smith’s ability to give the female cast the best lines, reminiscent of Auckland Theatre Company’s previous production of another one of her gems The Female Of The Species, was something I particularly enjoyed.

The story is very skilfully written and you can’t help being sucked in as an audience member, irrespective of your background or perspective.

Despite, or maybe because of, the differences between the two couples an unlikely friendship is struck, with neither couple ultimately knowing where it will eventually lead.

The second part of the play takes place a year later, which I thought provided the perfect punctuation for an interval to stretch our legs but for some reason this was not meant to be. And although this half strikes a more serious note it is equally humorous.

All the acting is well executed but Peirse shines brightly as the lead, handling the humour and drama in equally fine measure.

The big reveal of ‘the gift’ itself is highly charged and dramatic. However I felt the scene could have been shortened ever so slightly to greater dramatic effect.

Simon Baker’s AV design adds another dimension to the piece. I particularly like the way the AV is projected on the panels flanking the stage as well as the backdrop, making the play all the more dramatic. The icing on the cake was using director Colin McColl’s lovely daughter Miro in the closing scene – it made me smile only because I have had the pleasure of meeting her in the flesh many a time.

The Gift imparts many morals in this pithy play but ultimately it teaches us ‘not to look a gift horse in the mouth’. A tongue in cheek reference which you will only appreciate when you see the play, which you totally should.

The Gift is presented by Auckland Theatre Company and plays at the Maidment Theatre until 6 October. Details see ATC.

See also: Theatreview.org.nz review by Melisa Martin.

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