“Gift had a profound effect on me” A review by Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe

Published in A Clock in a Thunderstorm, June 2014

Jez Colborne is a man of extraordinary talent. He is a musician and composer whose world is bound up in his astonishing affinity with sounds and music.

He came to the world’s attention at the 2012 London Olympic Games performing his work ‘Irresistible’ and has since traveled the globe. At this year’s Bradford Festival I had the extreme privilege of seeing him perform the world premiere of his new piece ‘Gift’ with the members of Mind the Gap theatre company. 

The performance takes places in and around a blue shipping container into which the audience are driven in by a human bus.

The womb-like inside is akin to a sensory room bathing us in sounds, colour variations, lights and darkness, special effects and tactile objects.

Jez sings and plays, encouraging us to join in on occasion, and the effect is remarkably emotional and touching, in turn soothing and rousing us, with instrumental chimes and pipes that swirl around us and carry us with them. It is all very non threatening and ‘safe’.

Then the atmosphere changes, becomes charged with a different energy.

Noise enters from the outside world shaking our enclosed haven, startling at first, but then quickly becoming incorporated into the experience as Jez responds to the interruption and moulds it into something transformative that will move us through a birthing process and into the outside world. The doors of the container are pulled open and we are propelled out into the bright light.

In the hot sunshine, we watch our our ‘womb’ is climbed over, stamped upon and used as an arena for strong visual noise with a faster more constant and competitive beat. The performers circle the the empty container with their bikes and dances, thumping its redundant sides and clambering up it.

It is a mixture of exhilarating, alarming and exciting.

Jez stands at the side calmly watching as the one who has brought us through and just as things appear to be becoming chaotic and out of control he reassuringly walks in, climbs the ladder, stands amidst the noise that threatens to become a cacophony and, with complete measure, draws back control, bringing a quieter order to the movement.

The experiential nature of the performance piece is one that will be different for all that encounter it but few will leave it untouched.

For me, it had quite a profound emotional effect and at the end I  had to walk away without speaking to anyone and find a quiet space to be able to assimilate it. It’s taken me some time to write about it.

It brought to mind a number of things; the calming, healing effects of sensory equipment, music, and art that I have witnessed over the years, the birthing and re birthing processes.

And a particular memory of one night in my late daughter’s life when I crept into her darkened side ward and began to sing to her whilst I stroked her face and arms with a small fibre brush designed for drawing static from keyboards and which she loved to feel. It was something that I instinctively knew soothed here and eased her pain, but on that one night, the young nurse on duty watched me and then closely observed the differences in the monitoring levels on the equipment. All C’s vital functions were proven to improve temporarily during those times. That nurse later went on to do a dissertation on the beneficial effects of sensory stimulation for children in palliative care situations. I have always been absolutely convinced of the power of tapping into the energy of the senses and creativity that is innate within each one of us but to see a young nurse capturing the essence and vision of that was an incredibly special moment.

Why do I mention this in the context of seeing Jez Colborne and Mind the Gap’s performance? Because I watched those around me at Bradford that day and knew the deep things were being stirred. They were more than passive observers. They were participants who could not help but be affected by the sensory massaging they were involved in. It seeped from the eyes, their expressions and their demeanour.

Jez has been given an incredibly rare and precious gift and has chosen to share that gift with the world. The conjunction of those two things open the way for some very special, potentially powerful and far reaching performances.

I feel deeply honoured to have witnessed this performance.

It is ‘Gift by name and a true gift by nature.