‘The Arrival’, by Tamasha Theatre and CircusSpace

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; 27th March 2013*

It’s clear that the experience and ethos of the long-standing Tamasha theatre company has ensured the narrative in this re-telling of Shaun Tan‘s graphic novel, The Arrivalremains clear and poignant, allowing the circus skills to gently permeate the onstage world without taking over.  What stands out is not the abilities of the – no doubt – highly trained performers, but the dramatic potential of their apparatus to paint pictures, and create isolated worlds for the multi-national cast in their portrayal of the emigration experience.

I was actually rather surprised that there was relatively little in the way of acrobatic and aerial spectacle, having read a review that promised ‘breathtaking physical circus skills’, ‘another dazzling display of circus skills’, and ‘the massively talented circus-trained cast swing, twirl and fly around the stage’.

As circus arts are becoming more trendy within contemporary performance, they remain something of a mystery to most audiences and critics.  I am not denying that the artists involved were talented but, with a little understanding of the disciplines involved, I can see that where they really shone here was in their acting ability.  The constraints of Kristine Landon-Smith’s tight direction did not allow them the opportunity to fully show what they can do on their chosen apparatus – and the show, as a piece of theatre, worked all the better for that.

The only moment that really amazed me was Sam Hague’s slackline handstand.  Even Antonio Harris’ headfirst drop on the chinese pole, which drew gasps from the audience, is such an expected feature of that sort of act that – whilst appreciating his ability over mine – I didn’t register a ‘dazzling display of skills’.  (I did, however, admire his endurance maintaining a static pose at the top of his pole for what seemed like an awfully long time!)   The token moment from Addis Williams on the straps belies his skill, and the variety of uses that piece of kit can proffer.

If you want to see what these artists are capable of, I suggest you follow the links, but you won’t see it in The Arrival.  What you will see, is a show filled with seductive visuals and ingenious physicality, that piece together with live and recorded speech, music and sound to create a powerfully evocative impression of the fear, grief, uncertainty and bravery experienced by many immigrants.  The production offers a refreshing focus on the human stories of emigration, rather than the resultant immigration most of our media tend to concentrate on.

There is more of this   ↓

Photo by Barry Lewis
Photo by Barry Lewis

.                                                                           Than this   ↓

Photo by Barry Lewis
Photo by Barry Lewis

Nevertheless, this gentle and dreamlike production, which echoes the understated surrealism of Tan’s original artworks, provides a moving journey; and, if it doesn’t guide us to a comforting ending, that too is a reflection of the stories of emigration it tells.

*Re-posted from my own blog http://bit.ly/10tVZT8

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