VIVID IMAGERY AND HUMOUR
Auckland Festival 2009|
Created by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan (with the original cast)
from the graphic novel by Shaun Tan
Directed by Julie Nolan
Red Leap Theatre | NZ
at Opera House, Wellington
From 11 Mar 2010 to 14 Mar 2010
[1hr 15 mins, no interval]
Reviewed by John Smythe, 12 Mar 2010
The Arrival is a stand-out physical theatre production of exquisite visual artistry and astonishing ensemble work performed to a visceral soundscore. It has – and will – grace festival stages around the world and is not to be missed.
In a discussion that followed Sound of Silence (was that really just a week ago?), a colleague asked, “Where in New Zealand could we find actors and a director able to work like that?” The Arrival – which is also an almost entirely non-verbal feast of visual and physical theatre – offers a resounding answer. And since the comparison is being made, I'd say the Arrival team meets a much greater challenge with a wider range of performance and staging skills.
Adapted from Shaun Tan's graphic novel (the first Australian book of its genre to win a Premier's Award for Literature), The Arrival was originally commissioned by the Auckland Festival and developed through its Watch This Space initiative. After premiering at The Civic in March 2009 it was further developed and went on to the Sydney and Hong Kong festivals earlier this year. It comes to the international festival in Wellington as part of the Restage programme of proven NZ works.
For a blissful 80 minutes were are immersed in the surreal experience of a migrant (Jarod Rawiri) leaving his tormented homeland – evoked by menacing sound and black dragon-like tails swirling about the sky above a cluster of city buildings – for another, and doing all he can to secure a better life for his wife and daughter.
Just one example of how creators Kate Parker and Julie Nolan (who is also the director) have lifted the published work to a whole new level in performance comes with the way the family unit is depicted, asleep and at peace: dad embracing wife whose legs are wrapped about him; daughter draped down his back. But the world they wake to is not at peace …
Abetted by the designers – John Verryt (set); Andrew McMillan (sound & composition); Elizabeth Whiting (costume); Jeremy Fern (lighting); Kate Parker and Simon Coleman (puppets & props) –there is nothing the imaginations of this creative team is not equal to, from creating whole cities to raising a vast crop to be reaped; from using a tiny white origami bird to evoke the exchange of letters to manifesting a mode of transport with boxes attached to balloons (a huge one that encases him, a tiny one that he holds) …
The traveller's world becomes increasingly surreal as he sets out from the city, joins other emigrants, crosses an ocean by boat, delights at the strange native bird life over the looming new city, is confronted with officialdom, endures medical inspection and bewildering competence testing, gets his papers, leaves the new city for the country, tries to find his way about, attempts to adapt to his new community and learn their customs, acquires a strange pet, battles with a food-dispensing contraption, dreams of his family and has nightmares about what is happening ‘back home', copes with markets and understanding what may be eaten and what may not, has a crack at various jobs before getting a relatively good one on a production line … and is able, at last, to send for his family.
En route he meets others who have their stories to tell about what they have left behind. Delicious character cameos are dotted throughout and as an ensemble the cast works fluidly, tirelessly and with great panache to manifest the migrant experience with vivid imagery and humour. Some sequences involve extremely energetic actions that blend dance with stunt work, others are deliciously poetic, and humour and humanity pervade it all.
Ella Becroft, Veronica Brady, Alison Bruce, Chris Graham, Justin Haiu, Tama Jarman, Kate Parker, Jarod Rawiri, Sally Stockwell and Jared Turner all deserve the highest accolades for their stunning work.
As with The Letter Writer there is an unintelligible language that surfaces from time to time, and on a very few occasions the traveller uses the odd English word (representing his own language). Voices are also used to add non-verbal sound, ranging from the cries of terrified people to the tiny squeaks and shivering sigh of the wondrous pet creature as it sleeps contented with its master.
We are treated to such a fabulous array of images and insights it seems unfair to single any out. But the ladder work in one woman's story (Kate Parker) is thrilling, the steady conveyor belts of cones are memorable for the contrast they offer to the (highly organised) ‘chaos', and the ‘learning to play the game' sequence is especially hilarious.
Red Leap Theatre is now a major force in New Zealand theatre and deserves support at every level. The Arrival is accessible to all ages and stages across the full spectrum of society. I sincerely hope the powers that be at the Opera House/St James are doing their utmost to secure a return season and that it will be publicised far and wide as a show for all.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by:
Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);
Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
Janet McAllister (New Zealand Herald);
Bridget Jones (Stuff: Auckland Now);