MAGNIFICENT, MOVING, JOYOUS, AMAZING, MESMERIZING
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 LG Arts Centre, Seoul, South Korea
From 3 May 2012 to 6 May 2012
[1hr 15 mins, no interval]
Reviewed by Michael Downey, 27 May 2012
Nearly two years ago, I left New Zealand to live and work in a new, strange country – Korea. And now here I am, attending the opening night in Seoul of a New Zealand play based on Shaun Tan's picture story about an immigrant arriving in a strange new country. Yes, it was all starting to seem more than a little surreal.
Of course, I suspected it would strike a chord with me, even though I can hardly compare my situation to ‘The Traveller' in The Arrival. unlike him, I had a job and an apartment lined up, and friends and family were just a Skype call away – it was a relatively easy transition.
But nevertheless, much of what he experiences is no doubt familiar to any immigrant arriving in any new land, where the culture is vastly different, and, for the most part, people don't speak your language. Here on stage and in Tan's original book is all that is weird, alienating, frustrating, bewildering – and wonderful – about that ‘arrival'. Above all else, there is the sheer screwed up, topsy-turvy and mind-blowing realisation that suddenly, maybe for the first time, you are a foreigner, an immigrant, or as they say here in here in Korea, a ‘waygook'.
The Arrival is the eternal immigrant story, and in the wrong hands it could be mawkish and clichéd. But because it's Red Leap Theatre adapting Shaun Tan's picture book, it touches genius. Kate Parker (co creator) and Julie Nolan (director and co-creator) and the rest of the company have achieved that most elusive and wonderful of things: magnificent and moving theatre of the very highest order.
I could go on forever about the skill of every one involved, about the sets, the costume, the music, the puppets and props, the lighting etc (and I will in a minute!). But above all what this play does is what I alluded to earlier: it genuinely conveys what it feels like to arrive in a new country, where everything is kind of the same, but not quite. Hence, we have our Traveller grapple with a slightly fantastical hot water dispenser, encounter a birdlike creature that reminds one of a parrot but isn't quite like one really, and make firm friends with a gorgeous little animal that is, well, sort of like a dog, or a rat, or maybe a tadpole?
And this surreal quality is everywhere. There are bizarre flying balloons and other craft that crowd the skies of the city, floating between crazy, inconceivable towers and structures where people live and work, and scurry about below speaking in a magnificently loopy language and writing in an alien-like hieroglyphic alphabet (much like my first impression of Seoul!) And when you encounter these people they will be noisily going about their business, selling their wares, plying their trade, or maybe if they are fellow immigrants, regaling you with fantastical stories of their plight fleeing from native lands where the government sucks up the people using huge vacuum cleaner-like machines.
I am sure this was Shaun Tan's intention originally, to really extend that perception of new countries being strange and surreal, thus taking what could be a pretty straightforward, prosaic narrative into a totally new, refreshing and compelling direction; one that really alters (for the better) the protagonist's and thus the reader's intellectual and emotional response.
Astounding invention and ingenuity are the hallmarks of this production. Against John Verryt's astonishing set, the brilliantly talented cast – Jarod Rawiri, Ella Becroft, Veronica Brady, Jade Daniels, Chris Graham, Justin Haiu, Frances Herve, Tama Jarman, Cathy Livermore, and Kate Parker – perform theatrical magic. They create myriad fascinating, memorable characters to people this fantastical world. This is amongst the best ensemble work that I have seen from a cast anywhere, and obvious credit for this – other than the cast themselves of course – must go to director Julie Nolan and movement consultant Michael Parmenter.
The transitions are fluid and mind-blowing in their effectiveness: people and objects appear from seemingly nowhere, scenes melt seamlessly into other scenes through the clever transformation of a prop or a simple sweep of movement. For example, the paper used to represent a conveyer belt becomes torn up by marching soldiers and then manages to simultaneously represent both explosions and mud in battle.
The scene ends and I think, how will they get rid of those bits of paper? No problem, a green carpet complete with plants and shrubs is rolled out over everything in preparation for the next scene. Whoa.
Throughout, there is exceptional attention to detail, and sheer artistry and vision.
Someone, I am not sure who, once remarked that a good play should leave you with strong images in your mind. Well, this play has them in abundance, and they will be burned onto my retina forever: suitcases of the immigrants ingeniously forming the shape of a ship, an actor balancing precariously on the top of a ladder, wondrous little rabbit-like creatures created by the simple use of glove and hand movement, and huge, terrifying people-sucking giants realized through the marvellous use of backlight and shadows. Kate Parker finding new and interesting ways to kill fish had me in absolute stitches. As well as everything else, this show is funny!
Perhaps the strongest image of all for me, though, is the ending, beautifully set amidst falling snow. It is expected, for sure, but that doesn't matter, it is still one of the most moving moments of theatre I have ever witnessed, on a par, at least with the last stanza of Krishnan's Dairy.
Mention too, must be made of the brilliant props and puppets (Kate Parker, Simon Coleman and Jessica Verryt), the very apt and lovely sound composition (Andrew McMillan), the amazing costumes (Elizabeth Whiting), the extremely effective lighting (Jeremy Fern) and the extraordinarily hard working stage-management team (Chelsea Adams, Ian Flynn, and Dahnu Graham). And, finally, kudos to producer Lauren Hughes for all her sterling work getting this show to Seoul and making sure the cast and crew are well looked after.
Many productions consist of fine elements (set, performances, costumes etc) and often these elements combine to produce very good, or even great theatre. But it is that rare production indeed that goes well beyond this, and becomes a truly moving human experience. The Arrival is one of these productions.
This is a show that New Zealanders can justifiably be proud of, and it was wonderful to witness it performed here in Seoul. It is coming back to New Zealand in July. Please try to see it – it is joyous, amazing, and mesmerizing theatre.
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.
Janet McAllister (New Zealand Herald);
Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);
Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
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|Lauren Hughes||posted 27 May 2012, 03:32 PM / edited 27 May 2012, 12:00 AM|
Thank you Michael for this very generous review. It is so rewarding to know we are connecting with new audiences as well as old friends on our travels. Seoul was an amazing experience for Red Leap. I just wanted to give a shout out to the amazing Theresa Hanaray who was in fact our Tour Manager/Producer for this tour. I was back here in NZ plotting our next move.. which is of course an encore season of The Arrival in Auckland. We have three performances at the Aotea Centre from 13 - 15 July as part of THE EDGE Winter Showtime Programme. This may well be the last opportunity for kiwis to see this production in New Zealand for many years. It is also the first time Red Leap Theatre has self presented the show, having been programmed in six festivals to date. It is a risky business for us and we would really appreciate the support of the Theatreview whanau. You wont be disappointed!
Tickets are on sale at www.buytickets.co.nz. There are also family and group packages that dont show up on the website so you might prefer to talk with someone on 0800 BUY TICKETS. We are also offering a free Pre Show Forum at 6.30pm on 13 July where you can meet our Creative Team. We'd love to see you there.
To see photos and for more commentary on our Korean tour we'd love to see/hear from you at https://www.facebook.com/redleaptheatre
|Barnaby Fredric||posted 27 May 2012, 07:32 PM|
|Michael Downey||posted 28 May 2012, 04:49 AM / edited 28 May 2012, 04:51 AM|
Hi Barnaby, I came to Korea because I wanted to live overseas for a while basically! I'm here teaching English. It is indeed a fascinating country, and I'm having a great time.