The Below is a review I prepared for the Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust.
Kate Parker and Julie Nolan’s Red Leap Theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival was a visually intriguing and remarkably authentic production of the universal migrant’s tale. The story we all know where danger forces us away from where we are from and what we know, to a new place where we must overcome obstacles in order to reunite with what was left behind. This adaptation of The Arrival powerfully illustrates this through movement, shadow, music and puppetry.
The movement on stage demonstrates fantastic power and fluidity. Performances from the cast demonstrate their prowess in puppetry, dance, acting and even becoming part of the set. The puppetry brings a whole new layer of visual intrigue to the piece. There is phenomenal attention to detail with one of the largest pieces of puppetry on display for only a few seconds. The production shows us that what can be deemed a puppet is simply any prop that that can be brought to life by an actor and that puppetry is not about making the puppeteer disappear, but about bringing an inanimate object to life. This is done with enormous success as the cast mix with the puppets recreating their movement and sound as they skirt around the set.
Naturally, in any adaptation between mediums there are numerous artistic decisions to be made and with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival being such an original book, the translation was bound to be a challenge. Like the book, the production recreates the universally mysterious and unidentifiable new land that, aside from our own empathetic understanding of it, is a mystery. However, the protagonist himself must also represent everyman; as such, the decision to have him speak any language (particularly English) detracted somewhat. The Arrival is equally accessible to people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds. This is a reflection of the true universality of the story told, that in all parts of the world the things we take for granted are often baffling to outsiders.
At the end of the opening show there was tumultuous applause with perhaps a dozen of us on our feet. I do, however, suspect that those who joined me are either familiar with Shaun Tan’s books, or linked with the theatre production themselves. The Arrival stage show is definitely a production best served as a complement to the original piece. At times the ambiguous nature of the action on stage had me confused; but thinking back to a conversation with Shaun Tan during his time here in 2007, The Arrival isn’t necessarily there for interpretation, if you don’t understand what’s happening then you’re probably getting the message.
Image Credit: Shauntan