Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Arrival

The Arrival based on the book by Shaun Tan.  Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, at The Street, Canberra, September 27 – 30, 2017.

Director – Philip Mitchell; Designer – Jiri Zmitko; Composer and Sound Design –  Lee Buddle;  Lighting Designer – Graham Waine

Performed by Alicia Osyka, Adrienne Patterson, Ellis Pearson, Shirley van Sanden
Photos by Rebecca Mansell

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 29

The magic of reading the wordless Shaun Tan children’s storybook is recreated on stage by Spare Parts first by what seems to me to be the most complex set design and construction ever taken on tour. 

Opening and closing windows and doors into and out of a central recessed section, which can also be opened, closed or screened with transparent scrim, can hide or reveal earthbound, flying or even swimming puppets, whole or parts of humans, real or as shadows; while at the same time myriad projections of Tan’s illustrations (all done from only two projectors, one from the front and one from the rear) appear and disappear in surprising ways.  Just watching the set in constant change is absorbing in its own right.

Alicia Osyka, Ellis Pearson, Shirley van Sanden
in The Arrival
One of the children’s questions in the Q&A after the show was why didn’t anyone speak?  Ellis Pearson’s mime of the central migrant traveller in the story was the other expression of magic which adds an extra-special dimension to reading the book.  His training at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris shines through his performance of Aki.

Shaun Tan's story (partly based on his own father’s migration experience) is actually somewhat softened compared with Ellis Pearson’s reason for leaving South Africa:

South Africa – because of the system of apartheid ­– has been a difficult and dangerous country to live in for the past 50 years. It has become even more dangerous in the last 15 years. In the midst of a spate of violent attacks about ten years ago, my wife and young son were hijacked at gunpoint and that’s when we began to look at the possibility of finding a safer country to live.

The sense of commitment to Shaun Tan’s work was evident in the performance and the Q&A, where we learned that he was personally involved with the animation of his picture book even before the book was published in 2006.  Though I at first felt the stage presentation might be a bit beyond the younger children present that day, this proved not to be the truth. They were all absorbed watching the show, and several demanded their mothers ask perceptive questions afterwards.

If you haven’t a copy handy, you can do no better than view Shaun Tan’s web page at ; and certainly see the Spare Parts production – but you’ll need to fly to Queensland for the next section of the National Tour
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Ellis Pearson as Aki
in The Arrivalawaiting the arrival of his wife and daughter