I’ve just been to see The Arrival a new production that’s had its world premiere at this year’s Auckland Festival.
The Arrival is a piece of physical theatre and interpretive dance created by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan with assistance from leading New Zealand dance muse Michael Parmenter (described as Movement Consultant in the programme) and set to haunting music by Andrew McMillan.
Tan’s work is allegorical, deep and humorous. He writes about social dislocation, colonialism, memory and depression. The Red Leap Theatre’s adaptation of the story is faithful, innovative and well-crafted.
The Arrival tells the story of an immigrant’s struggle to come to terms with a new and strange land. He has fled what seems to be a war zone and left behind his wife and child. He is bewildered by all the new sights, sounds, smells and rituals of the land he arrives in and as the narrative unfolds he begins to adapt, learn the language and make friends.
A simple tale, but one rich in symbolism. The costumes, faithful to the book, are reminiscent of post WWII refugees, sort of middle 20th century proletarian shabby-chic. At the same time there’s a vaguely contemporary feel that invokes the Balkan wars and the Middle Eastern conflicts of recent years.
Because The Arrival started life as a graphic novel it has no dialogue. Some briefs snips of speech are included in the production, but not in any recognisable language. I think I recognised a few words of French, but spoken with an accent that would kill the heart of an Alliance Francais professuer. There’s an angular and almost Slavic tone to the made up tongue. Luckily there’s not too much talking. In this case actions speak louder than words.
One aspect of the book that is rendered extremely well on stage is the range of phantastical creatures that our arrivalist encounters. They are rendered as puppets manipulated by the actors without any self-consciousness and they are delightful. They are manipulated with vigour and charm, particularly the large sperm-like creature (see illustration above) that behaves remarkably like a demented dog.
The puppets and the set (all designed by Simon Colement, Jessica Verryt and the 2Construct company) are an integral part of this production and very well done. They transform the simply dressed and well-lit space of the Civic theatre into a horrifying war zone, the rolling deck of a ship, a bewildering modern city, an apartment, a park and many other evocative spaces. It’s all done with the slide of a few well-made flats, boxes and jigsaw-like concertina constructions.
The story and the “play” (hardly seems an adequate description) are full of emotion and I couldn’t help thinking that it stands as a neat metaphor for much of the world’s horror that we see around us. People are displaced, are made into refugees, by circumstances beyond their control. They face uncertainty, their own fears and the deeply-felt loss of loved ones in a desperate bid to find a new, better life.
Ultimately Tan’s story is uplifting, the family is re-united and our arrivalist has found a new life, new friends (including the strange creatures) and he even learns to like to disgusting foreign food.
Well done New Zealand and hearty congratulations to everyone associated with this production.
PS: as we left the theatre, Moac said, “I want that dog,” meaning the puppet. Please let me know if any of the creatures can be bought when the production is finished.