The Arrival exceeds expectations

20:48, Jul 17 2012
The Arrival
EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS: The stage play of The Arrival brings a graphic novel to life.

Sometimes, words just can't do something justice. No matter how you form them or phrase them, they miss the mark; they are inadequate. And so it seems, The Arrival is one of those somethings.

Perhaps it is because it is based on a graphic novel; perhaps because there is no use of spoken language. Whatever the reason, no matter what is written or read about this truly unique production, the full picture isn't revealed until you find yourself inside it.

The Arrival is a story of belonging; of losing it, of searching for it, and ultimately, of finding it again. Based on the work of Australian artist Shaun Tan, the production sees a man leave his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking a better life for them far from home.

We see him struggle as he says goodbye, as he travels and as he finds himself in a country so alien to him that all his optimism and wonder of "the new world" slowly gets shaken out of him.

The words and language around him tumble and fumble, the sights and sounds surprise and, occasionally scare him; even the animals are new and confusing.

But through the kindness of strangers, who share their own struggles and history, our man finds his feet, slowly but surely.


Produced by the Red Leap Theatre Company, the story unfolds like a pop-up children's book, unsurprising really, considering its origins. We flick through from scene to scene, with anticipation of what will spring up next for our brave hero.

The audience clearly feels a part of the story, with the limited use of a recognisable language, we learn as our man learns - any confusion is also our confusion. It's a confronting, but strangely refreshing place to be.

Part of what makes this work is the set. Clearly based around Tan's own drawings, they move and contort like a living thing and add a lovely layer of depth to the overall affair.

The whole production, from the lighting to the costumes appears bathed in a sepia tone, purely adding to the longing for home and for "perfect" moments.

But it is the people that turn this picture book into something real. The cast's pure physicality might be demanded because, well without words, the language of movement is all you have, but they seem to do it with such ease. It's rare to find a cast of actor move so easily like dancers, making you care without using the skill they most rely on: language.

While these words may get close to articulating just how magical and delightful The Arrival really is, again, it's doubtful. And with just two shows left in New Zealand, perhaps this is one of those times to merely trust, just as those brave explorers did when they set off for a better life.

The Arrival
July 14 and 15 at the ASB Theatre, Auckland

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