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Arts Festival Review: The Arrival

Arts Festival Review: The Arrival

Review by Lyndon Hood

the arrival, red
leap theatre – image: john mcdermott
Image: John McDermott

The Arrival
Red Leap Theatre
Based on the book by Shaun Tan
11 – 14 March
Wellington Opera House


Shaun Tan's graphic novel The Arrival tells the story of an immigrant coming to a strange land. The illustration and events are full of surreal images and environments that come alive, reflecting the impression the strange people, objects, customs and language have on the protagonist.

These wordless analogies work more on the reader's hindbrain than their intellect, and leave deep impressions of the darkness the migrants we meet have left and their struggles in a strange new land – even a bright, prosperous and welcoming one.

Red Leap's adaptation of this book is not only impressively captures Tan's visuals and his themes – it also shares that spirit of heartfelt invention.

And the animistic liveliness of the environment is recreated with theatrical gusto. The city (folded flats with painted details) moving around the immigrant, the startlingly faithful and lively recreations of Tan's strange creatures, the weather – all worked by one one kind or another of puppetry from the cast, or at least under human power: hidden pushing, manipulation with sticks or simply creating them with human bodies.

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There is also a wealth of human characters, performed by the ensemble cast with energy and usually speaking the gibberish of the new land (the migrant speaks a very few lines of English; there is also much that is beyond words). They gradually change from a moving mass of the city to individuals as our migrant find his feet and learns the stories of where they came from. Each of these stories different, each as dark and powerful as that of the migrant, who has left a city crouched under constant black, swirling threat, working to bring the family he has left behind to safety.

This story, its loveable characters, its heart and its invention culminates in an ending which is utterly sweet. I had trouble clapping to begin with because I was trying to laugh and cry at the same time.

The Arrival is a deeply moving portrayal of the migrant experience, full of beauty and theatricality. It's good to see a full-scale New Zealand production that succeeds so thoroughly in what it sets out to do.

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Press releases: Shaun Tan’s Book Arrives On Stage at NZIAF, RESTAGE to Support New Zealand Performance
Arts Festival website: The Arrival
Red Leap Theatre
Video: - The Arrival excerpts
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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