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Review: The Borrowers, by Jane Hackett Productions, Ojo Collective, Jerwood DanceHouse, until December 17

PUBLISHED: 16:16 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:16 14 December 2017

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

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DanceEast commissioned a real Christmas treat from choreographer Jane Hackett when they asked her to develop her idea of turning Mary Norton’s much-loved children’s novel The Borrowers into a dance-theatre production.

The Borrowers Spiller (Lewis Cooke) Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Arrietty (Hannah Mason) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers Spiller (Lewis Cooke) Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Arrietty (Hannah Mason) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

Using innovative hand-drawn and coloured, digital animation and over-sized props, Jane Hackett’s clever staging brings the story of a family of pint-sized scavengers to life and leaves audiences of all-ages transfixed.

It’s a simple story imaginatively told. We are introduced to the characters – Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Homily (Estela Merlos), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) and Spiller (Lewis Cooke) – as they explore their environment. They collect discarded items of human life, half of a pair of scissors, a paper clip, a box of matches, a pencil (all larger than life, of course) before making their way back home; to a safe space beneath the floorboards of a house.

Watching the dancers move is magical. There’s no walking from A to B. Instead there are twists, tumbles and pirouettes. Each dancer has developed a way of moving that reflects their character, so we get a sense of everyone’s personality. Dancers Estela and Thomasin get co-choreographer credits.

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

Part of the magic is how the dancers interact with the painted projections. Not only do they provide clever background settings but they also drive the narrative. The most impressive moments come when they survive an attack from a kitchen mop, which forces them to flee their home, and later they have to fend off a flock of hungry crows.

These sequences are dynamic and gorgeous to watch, keeping everyone on the edge of their seat. Artist and animator Betsy Dadd is a young talent to watch. She has created a beautiful and truly unique world for these Borrowers to inhabit. I love the way that the transitions between scenes allow the moving projections to be drawn and filled in as they come into the scene. Also, composer Tobias Saunders’ specially commissioned score adds to the character and atmosphere of the piece and keeps the narrative moving working in close harmony with both the dancers and the backgrounds.

The Borrowers’ is a magical triumph. Catch it if you can.

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