The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Red Leap Theatre / Sydney Festival. CarriageWorks (NSW). Director: Julie Nolan.

Like a lucky dip, this production of The Arrival is polished, aesthetically pleasing and full of surprises. The piece opens with autumn colours bathing the concertinaed set, which throughout the piece is manipulated and changed to create a vast array of sets. This production really is like peeking into a popup book. It's a charming, whimsical, joyful adaptation of the wordless novel, by Shaun Tan, a Perth-born and now Melbourne-based freelance artist and author.
New Zealand Company Red Leap Theatre, led by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan, capture the exact essence of what theatre should be about and as they state on their website "We expect our work at all times to be genuine generous theatre that moves." They couldn't be closer to the truth; their innovative design, dynamic choreography and superb musical score encapsulates everything you want from a performance only made possible by an extremely well equipped, diverse range of theatre practitioners.
As the piece develops it is evident the standard of the ensemble is consistently tight and sophisticated. You can see these are consummate performers as they dive and fall in the air with choreographed segments reminiscent of Australian Dance Theatre's work. They also effortlessly entertain us with their colloquial gibberish which complements the outstanding score by Andrew McMillan. It seems actual words aren't needed because the message is a universal one. We follow the main character, a mid 40s male immigrant who leaves his wife and young daughter. We follow him on his travels and his new learning. We identify with him. The through line in this production is relevant to all of us at some point in our lives. The content covers: leaving loved ones, traveling, discovery, adventure and the sometimes scary overwhelm of the unknown. This is what we recognize and are familiar with, this is only human nature and this magical production touches the childlike innocence and sense of constant curiosity in all of us.
Elements of the production remind me of UK physical theatre company DV8 with the contemporary dance and acrobatic moments intertwined with funny, comical gestures and dialogue. The production incorporates strange little creatures that pop out of baskets and sit on people's heads. It is a gorgeous dollop of quirkiness that the audience seems to delight in.
The Arrival generates an astonishing amount of scene changes to ensure we are continually engaged and stimulated. With outstanding props by Simon Coleman, Jessica Verryt, Kate Parker and props master Ian Flynn they remind us of pieces of cleverly crafted origami. The closing moments are of gentle snowfall as the immigrant father returns from his travels. This reminds us just how good it feels to arrive home.
Emma Bell

Photo: John McDermott

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