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Tamasha Theatre presents The Arrival

By Andrew Hammond
April 22 2013





Tamasha Theatre’s latest offering is an utterly mesmerising and engaging portal onto what it means to be one of “the millions in-between worlds”, the migrants, refugees and diasporas of today and of days gone by.

Based on the graphic novel by Oscar winning Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing, 2011), it took four and a half long years for the director, Kristine Landon-Smith to get The Arrival to the stage and it was certainly worth the effort.

The Arrival is a refreshing and multi-layered take on the age-old story of migration. Taking a bold step, the production brings together theatre, song, circus and animation to tell its epic tale.

We are greeted with elderly Dele who has left his home and family in search of a better life and with him reminisce on a near-forgotten past in a faraway land. Lonely in this new place he has a created a home for other migrants like himself, forming a new family to replace the loved ones left behind.

Through dreams and flashbacks we learn of Dele’s motherland, set in an unknown place with tall trees and a burning sun. Much of the mise-en-scène suggest that Dele’s story is set in the Windrush era but the ambiguity and stripped back nature of the presentation mean that he could easily have undertaken his journey in 2008 rather than 1948, emphasising the timeless nature of migration.

The Arrival explores the varied facets of migrant life, seeking to guide us through the heartbreak of leaving one’s home and loved ones, the fear of the unknown and the isolation felt in new world. All changes that lead to Dele becoming “a stranger to himself”.

However, despite the many grim realities of migration depicted, The Arrival is in essence a story of hope and promise; the hope of a better life, of reunion and rebirth; showing the kindness of humanity and her ability to endure.

Each of the art forms used works together to create a wholly bewitching production; harnessing the suspense of acrobatics, the power of spoken word and the delicacy of theatre. The show transports the audience to another world of treacherous seas, exotic lands and strange new cultures. Many of the actors are trained circus performers who have managed to master a number of the artistic genres at play, and have effectively moulded the spectacle of circus into a mode of conveying striking emotion and mood.  Resembling the wordless graphic novel it is based on, the stage production features spoken word as a supporting character. Instead the play is carried by physical movement and eye catching imagery.

Indeed the use of circus and acrobatics perhaps allows  for the best demonstration of the epic nature of the journeys these migrants face; the metaphorical suspension between the characters’ old world and the new is brought to the fore through the use of the tightropes, and the use of Chinese poles to allow the performers to climb up to the rafters of the theatre help to physically convey the emotional distance families endure through members leaving their homes in the hope of bettering their circumstance.

At 50 minutes the performance condenses its stylised story of migration into just a handful of scenes. At a blistering pace the artistic direction seems to be taking broad brush strokes in painting its portrayal of the migrant, leaving the audience wanting to know more about the people depicted. Indeed the key sacrifice in achieving the short running time was individual character development leading to an intense yearning to know more about each character and to find resolutions to each person’s plot line. However like life perhaps in this way the production is mirroring the lack of truly knowing someone who has left everything behind, and possibly points to our own limited understanding of what it fully means to be a migrant.








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