The Arrival

Opera House, Wellington

11/03/2010 - 14/03/2010

The Civic – THE EDGE®, Auckland

12/03/2009 - 15/03/2009

LG Arts Centre, Seoul, South Korea

03/05/2012 - 06/05/2012

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

13/07/2012 - 15/07/2012

Auckland Festival 2009

Production Details

The strange, magical world of Shaun Tan’s award-winning graphic novel, The Arrival, comes to life in a production that will delight and intrigue audiences of all ages and backgrounds.  Sophisticated puppet imagery, song and movement combine to tell an enthralling story of struggle and survival in an incomprehensible world of loneliness, upheaval and hope. 

The Arrival is a tribute to the journeys of immigrants, migrants and refugees throughout the world. 

Red Leap Theatre Company is led by Kate Parker (known by many for her accomplished performance as the duck puppeteer in Indian Ink’s The Candlestickmaker) and Julie Nolan (who directed The Land of Make Believe for Silo Theatre).  The pair directed the acclaimed Into the Blue for Pandemonium Theatre in March 2008.

Developed through the Auckland Festival WATCH THIS SPACE initiative funded by Arts Regional Trust and ASB Community Trust. 

Parker and Nolan met while studying at the John Bolton Theatre School in Melbourne in 1995. They returned to New Zealand shortly after and established themselves as entrepreneurial theatre artists creating, performing, producing and teaching their craft.

Both Parker and Nolan are no strangers to creating surreal works of art for the stage. Parker was the duck puppeteer in Indian Ink’s The Candlestickmaker and Nolan directed The Land of Make Believe for Silo Theatre. They have collaborated on Moahunting in 2001, The Butcher’s Daughter in 2003 and Beyond the Blue in 2008.

Shaun Tan is the author of popular illustrated books; The Rabbits, The Red Tree and The Lost Thing.

The Civic, THE EDGE,
Thu 12 – Sun 15 March,
Tickets: $25 – $55
Thursday 12 March (Opening) 7.30pm Friday 13 March 7.30pm Saturday 14 March 2.00pm & 7.30pm Sunday 15 March
*School Matinee 5.00pm
Bookings: THE EDGE Ticketing Service 09 357 3355   

Opera House
11, 12 March at 8pm
13 March at 2pm
14 March at 4pm
1hr 20mins 

2012 Seasons  
LG Arts Centre, 
Seoul, South Korea 
May 3-6.

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre – The Edge

Friday 13 – Saturday 14 July 2012, 7.30pm 
and Sunday 15 July, 4.00pm 

Having swept the 2010 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards and won universal acclaim touring the Pacific Rim, one of New Zealand theatre’s most stunning and innovative works returns to Auckland for three shows only!

What drives so many people to leave behind everything they know to journey alone to a land where the future is unknown? Fleeing an oppressive force and leaving behind his wife and child, a man travels vast oceans in search of a better life. He encounters indecipherable languages, peculiar customs, curious animals and dazzling architecture. Baffled and bewildered, he endeavours to find a home, a job and the security he needs to reunite his family.

Adapted from the graphic novel by 2011 Academy Award winner Shaun Tan, The Arrival features no English language. Instead it brings Shaun’s wordless worlds to life with a highly physical cast, puppetry, music, and shadow play.

Suitable for 12 years and above, The Arrival, sends hearts and imaginations to a land of flying ships, strange birds and travelling balloons.

A tribute to migrants, refugees and displaced people worldwide, The Arrivalis ultimately a tale of overcoming hardship, of humanity and of hope.

Commissioned by Auckland Arts Festival 2009

Developed via “Watch This Space”
Red Leap Theatre on Facebook 

Running Time
1 hour, 20 minutes
No interval

Ticketing Information
Save with groups of 10 or more, phone 09 357 3354
Concession for Children (12 and under), Students (with valid ID) and Seniors (65+)
Family Prices available (2 Adults and 2 Children) $180/ $160/$120*.
Please phone the call centre on 09 357 3355 or 0800 BUY TICKETS or visit the box office.
*Service fees apply

Free Forum
Friday 13 July, 6.30pm
A pre-show forum will be held before the opening night performance. This is free for The Arrival ticket holders. This will be an opportunity for audience members to meet the creative team and learn about the creative process. The session will be filmed for Red Leap Theatre. 

Ella Becroft, Alison Bruce, Chris Graham, Justin Haiu, Tama Jarman, Tahi Mapp-Borren*, Kate Parker, Jarod Rawiri, Sally Stockwell, Jared Turner

*Veronica Brady replaces Tahi Mapp-Borren in the NZIAF 2010 season.

Set: John Verryt
Sound/composition: Andrew McMillan
Costume: Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting: Jeremy Fern
Puppet, prop design, construction: Kate parker, Simon Coleman and Jessica Verryt

Movement consultant: Michael Parmenter

PRODUCER: Lauren Hughes

1hr 15 mins, no interval

The Arrival exceeds expectations

Review by Bridget Jones 14th Jul 2012

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. [More


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Organically articulate, skilful, lyrical, universal and inspirational

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 14th Jul 2012

Red Leap Theatre’s creative co-directors, Julie Nolan and Kate Parker, take their audience to a world of imaginative tactile storytelling, using finely-tuned theatre craft, skilful puppetry, inspirational ensemble physicality and a fictional language.  

The way they bring Shaun Tan’s vivid graphic novel to life ‘speaks’ volumes about universal themes such as love, loss, loyalty, risk, striving for a better life, journeys to unknown territories, displacement in a foreign land, identity and belonging.

While my friend, who has recently returned from overseas, relives her experiences in non-English speaking European countries, The Arrival also makes her think about the future, as new beginnings and possibilities are contemplated. 

My 8 year old daughter also has a very personal reaction, as The Arrival makes her think about what it will be like when she is a grown-up and leaves her family to start her own life. She also thinks about how hard it might be when she goes out to look for a job.

I am gripped by the universality of The Arrival, as many scenes trigger thoughts about worldwide atrocities, such as the plight of refugees (most recently on Australian coastlines) plus the human cost and futility of civil war (in particular, the blood-bath in Syria right now).

The breath-taking physicality, dexterity, balance, trust and strength of the “woman climbing the ladder-of-life” scene – as an oppressed worker tries to retrieve her cherished book – sparks memories of Sky City Auckland’s recent and bizarre over reaction in disciplining a conscientious worker for keeping her little bible with her as she dutifully served the casino.  

Strong storytelling is a powerful thing. 

The Arrival’s global message is reflected exquisitely by the creative team: Director Julie Nolan; Concept and Imagery design and construction Kate Parker; John Verryt Set Design; Jeremy Fern Lighting Design; Andrew McMillan Sound Design /Composer; Elizabeth Whiting Costume Design; Simon Coleman and Jessica Verryt Imagery Construction.

Collectively, they create a non-specific ‘Everyman’s Land’ that to me, at various times, looks and sounds Hungarian, Middle Eastern, East German, East European, South American, Italian, and French.

They also articulate the migration from ‘Old World’ — depicted as an unwelcoming shadowy urban wasteland, with dangerous dragon’s tails in the skies — to ‘New World’ — as sets organically morph, like slow moving 3D art installations, from one scene to another, accompanied by beautiful dappled mood light from Fern.

Each change of season or scene, such as the ‘felt garden’ pulled up at the front of stage, perhaps signifying spring growth, is directed lyrically and with beautiful attention to detail, by Nolan.

We meet wondrous birds, Muppet-like creatures and curious pets in the New World, each ingeniously designed and brought to life by the ensemble. My favourites are ‘the dance of the snails’; the hotel manager’s pet Fizzgit, who bares a striking resemblance to his owner at times (great expression from Sally Stockwell); Back-pack guy; Owl (who looks like a Pokémon-Hare cross); and the inquisitive cheeky Ref, who shows us that pets can bring you comfort, wherever you are.

Red Leap’s cast of 10, which includes many members of the original devising cast (Kate Parker, Jarod Rawiri, Ella Becroft, Alison Bruce, Chris Graham, Tama Jarman, Jared Turner and Sally Stockwell) is uniformly fit, and their ensemble expression is flawless. I am not surprised to read that yoga and mediation tutors are part of the show’s management team.

From the opening scene, where Rawiri, Becroft and Bruce depict the closeness and connection of a loving family, through balance and strength, the ensemble use physicality and movement to work as one. They depict a huge variety of shared experiences and emotions – such as the joy of watching dolphins – through to enforced health checks and strict processing on arriving at a foreign land, where each person is identified with a card to signify their homeland or back-story.

The ensemble also becomes a myriad of inanimate objects such as a porthole, archway, clock, coat rack, cupboard, window, table, bed, plus the extraordinary coffee machine with a big attitude.

Top honours to Rawiri as The Traveller. His articulation of the isolation felt in a new land – as he struggles to find work and connection, while coping with new languages, customs, traditions, expectations, mannerisms, even handshakes — is palpable.

McMillan’s Sound Design and composition is captivating and evocative. The emotion or theme attached to each scene is articulated through a variety of instruments including xylophone, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, flute and other woodwind. However, McMillan also allows breath and space between the notes, to speak.

While The Arrival’s contemporary dance sequences are amazing (the troupe could easily be mistaken for emerging artists from Footnote or Atamira), one scene I struggle to connect with is the final ensemble ‘Bossa nova’-like number. Perhaps it is intended to show connection with newfound friends, but it feels a tad long and generalised, compared to the focus and poignancy of scenes that had preceded it.

However, the arrival of pretty snow, followed by a message from home, and finally, reunification, just like ‘sonata form’, gives The Arrival nice symmetry in the end.


Lauren Hughes July 15th, 2012

Thanks so much for the review Kate. I just want to advise that the actors playing the owner of Fizzgig was actually the fabulous Veronica Brady. Sally Stockwell   is also in our ensemble playing a variety of other great roles. 

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Magnificent, moving, joyous, amazing, mesmerizing

Review by Michael Downey 27th 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. 


Michael Downey May 28th, 2012

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.

Barnaby Fredric May 27th, 2012

Hey Michael!

Great review! I am curious, if it's not too much to ask - what brought you on your journey to Korea? I think it's a really interesting country - and I can imagine it being a very relatable experience to the subject matter of this show.

Lauren Hughes May 27th, 2012

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 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  

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Poignant, full of feeling, often unnerving

Review by Lynn Freeman 18th Mar 2010

The Arrival, honed and polished after its Auckland Festival premiere and some overseas appearances, shows just what New Zealand theatre practitioners can do when given the chance and a decent budget.

This is a big and boldly ambitious show, its full of magic and meaning, the puppetry and sfx will blow your mind. The Arrival is based on Shaun Tan’s graphic novel of the same name.

The story is timely and relevant, as a migrant flees his homeland in search of a better future. This is an exploration of migration, the strangeness of moving to other lands where everything from the language, food, customs and animals are baffling.

There is also the pain of leaving the people you love behind, especially when their safety is in jeopardy. It’s poignant, it’s full of feeling, and is also often unnerving.

No wonder it’s been picked up by overseas arts festivals, it deserves its success. The actors are also dancers (some of the dance sequences are more impressive than the formal dance works in the programme), puppeteers and set movers.

The gorgeous and versatile set is testament to ingenuity, the cast work as a perfect team, and this production is a triumph for them and the show’s directors Kate Parker and Julie Nolan.
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. 


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Vivid imagery and humour

Review by John Smythe 12th 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. 


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Simple story told with captivating imagination

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 12th Mar 2010

Every immigrant’s nightmare: arriving in a new country faced with a strange new language, people and customs and the highs and lows of dealing with all this strangeness. 

As the title suggests this is exactly what Red Leap Theatre’s production of The Arrival all about. This is no harrowing story of a refugee family but a tale of one man’s journey told in one of the imaginative and innovative ways seen in a long while. 

Based on a book of the same name by Australian writer Shaun Tan, it not only re-crates Tan’s story but the creators of this show, Kate Parker and Julie Nolan also emmulate the surreal, dream-like imagery that he uses to illustrate his books. 

It’s a simple story of hope and fortitude overcoming hardship and insurmountable odds. A man leaves his wife and daughter for a better life in a far away country so that one day they can join him and prosper from his new found life.

Travelling across the ocean he eventually arrives in this strange new world where he doesn’t speak the language and where everything about him is odd and unfamiliar. He has to re-learn the basics of day-to-day living in an alien culture, with little or no help from those around him. Eventually he secceeds in settling in and is reunited with his family. 

From the moment the wonderfully 3D-like set of John Verryt unfolds it is obvious that this is going to be an enthralling and magical journey. Almost wordless, the production uses creatively choreographed movement and an amazing array of puppets, flying birds and ships, a mouse like dog and many other objects, to tell the story. The originality of expressing the difficulty he has in dealing with everyday things is totally absorbing.

At times funny and at others poignantly emotional, greatly aided by Andrew McMillan’s evocative soundscape, this childlike presentation, which is far from childish, captivitates its audience from start to finish. The ensemble playing of the cast is excellent, not only in their energy and physicality but in the way they assist the transition of set and props from scene to scene seamlessly. 

This NZ production has gained many accolades across the Tasman since it’s premier in Auckland a year ago, and rightly so. And like Apollo 13; Mission Control, itis equal to and in some cases better than overseas productions.
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Picture-book perfection

Review by Janet McAllister 14th Mar 2009

Physical theatre never better than this captivating tale of an immigrant’s journey

Tall city walls and flying black dragons’ tails: from the beginning of its world premiere, The Arrival held its audience in a state of rapture and curiosity. Acclaimed New Zealand physical theatre doyennes Kate Parker and Julie Nolan have adapted Australian Shaun Tan’s exquisite, softly-drawn adult picture book, also called The Arrival, for performance – and the result is exceptional.

Faithful to Tan’s artistic style and muted palette, the ambitious piece almost wordlessly charts the story of a man who leaves his beloved wife and daughter to move to a strange and wondrous country. [More]


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Enchanting tale of heartening optimism

Review by Nik Smythe 13th Mar 2009

Not reading the programme beforehand I was unaware that The Arrival is in fact a book by Australian author Shaun Tan, which like this play addresses the common issues of migration – communication difficulties, separation from family and so on. 

Perhaps familiarity with the literary original would give greater clarity to this work, but one of the key advantages of this production is its ability to transcend language barriers.  With precious little English spoken, and the remaining scant dialogue being what I believe is a fictional alien tongue, this work has good travel credentials.  Not least due to the grand, expansive, enchanting, hypnotic spectacle that it is.

Directed by Julie Nolan, it is performed by ten actors, including co-creator Kate Parker, who is also behind the extensive puppetry that permeates virtually every scene so that odd creatures wandering about are just part of our given reality.  A plethora of visual concepts are utilised, but never gratuitously or needlessly. 

The thematic elements echo Parker and Nolan’s Beyond the Blue project last year, being a tale of travel and discovery, through wondrous lands inhabited by extraordinary creatures. The perspective developed through the ensemble’s busy evocation places us somewhere in the headspace of the main character played by Jarod Rawiri, as he sets out into the world, leaving his family behind as he heads away to find his fortune in a new country. 

Along the way he meets many people and encounters all manner of strange and interesting animals courtesy of said puppets.  Often the various attempts at communication seem to make sense, and other times it’s rather difficult to work out what is actually happening.  This creates a firsthand sense of the very problems inherent with exploring new lands and cultures.

Numerous subplots enhance the story of our hero’s travels.  An old soldier’s war story is an exception to an otherwise rather idealistic experience of migration in which the local people are always friendly and helpful to the outsider who speaks another language.  Ultimately this is a heartening tale of optimism, showing what adventures can be had when everyone is committed to a positive outcome.

No casting complaints whatsoever; also no particularly standout turns by any of the actors.  Rather we are privileged to witness a close team working together for the good of the whole piece.  Observing the group in action, it’s obvious how much respect and trust Parker, Rawiri, Alison Bruce, Sally Stockwell, Chris Graham, Tahi Mapp-Barren, Jared Turner, Ella Becroft, Jason Haiu and Tama Jarman hold for one another. 

The choreography, devised by the company under the guidance of movement consultant Michael Parmenter, creates a mystical dimension that almost but never quite crosses over from theatre into the realm of dance. 

Indeed, the highlight characteristic of this show is the ingenious theatrical solutions that continually surprise and satisfy.  In particular the issues of scale, zooming scenes in and out, e.g. from inside the hero’s sci-fi air-balloon capsule to seeing a miniature party-balloon model as it floats over the rearranging flats that represent the numerous towns and cities passed by on our protagonist’s journey, and back.

Brought to life by the typically exemplary lighting of Jeremy Fern, the esteemed John Verryt’s set design is a triumphant masterpiece in terms of visual style and functional versatility.  By degrees squared, Andrew McMillan’s original music compositions and innovative sound design are of the high standard that a production of this quality demands, i.e. world class.

The enigmatic storytelling and abstract visual style suggest a kind of dream.  While the characters, both human and puppet, engage us and command our sympathies, the meta-reality style of the piece has it falling short of moving me to tears of recognition.  However, though not emotionally moving to any real depth, as we left the theatre I definitely felt affected in some kind of mental way, spiritual perhaps… Enchanted.


Corus March 15th, 2010

I agree that this production is full of ingenious moments and stunning design, but like this reviewer I too was left unmoved; and as the book itself is powerfully moving, this was a big disappointment. The motor of the story is the protagonist's deep longing for his family and his loneliness and desperation in a foreign land as he makes his way toward their reunion.  While the 'foreigner in a strange city' scenario always offers humorous possibilities, I felt as the show progressed that the company was far too seduced by these, and performers permitted to overact and lapse into cliche far too often - a real pity when everything about the book is so astoundingly original.  The story lost its spine, our hero lost his place as the emotional touchstone and any need for our compassion; and the powerful cityscapes disappeared to be replaced by phalanxes of dancers being rather ordinary. Had the show been anchored in the man's emotional journey as the book is, had we been able to identify strongly with him throughout, none of this may have mattered. The extent to which the way was lost was illustrated by the ending.  The family's reunion, which should have been a wonderful climactic moment, rushed by in a matter of seconds as if they were meeting up again after a week's holiday. 

nik smythe March 14th, 2009

I was reminded this evening that I want to make extra mention to the stage management team.  The efforts of the crews behind the scenes of any production often go unsung, as their agenda normally includes not drawing any attention.  However, anyone half as pedantic as I am has to realise that there must be people in the wings back there, co-ordinating almost 200 individual props of all sizes and dimensions for the cast to be able to do their job seamlessly.  Therefore respectful salutations to Josh Hyman and his team, who I am told work about as hard as the cast to make it all happen.

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