Review: The Arrival, QPAC

Charlene Li

A surreal and spell-binding theatre experience for old and young alike.
Review: The Arrival, QPAC

Presented by Red Leap Theatre, Shaun Tan's The Arrival at QPAC.

The Arrival presented by Red Leap Theatre and Out of The Box Festival for children is a spell-binding work of physical theatre with elements of puppetry, dance, and acrobatics based on Australian Shaun Tan's award-winning graphic novel. The narrative is a fantastical depiction of an immigration tale; following a man who ventures solo to a foreign country in search of a better life for himself and his family. In the strange new land he's confronted with a myriad of obstacles and spectacles, goes on a few adventures and along the way meets other characters each with their own stories and histories to tell. In keeping with the graphic novel – which doesn't include text, dialogue in The Arrival is sparse – and what little there is appears to be in an incomprehensible language (which I later discover is based on English words with certain letters swapped around to change the sound). 

The story is told through movement, mime, and puppetry – performed by a cohesive and remarkably versatile ensemble (comprising of a mix of Brisbane dance artists and Red Leap company members) equally capable at slapstick mime, puppetry, and intense acrobatic scenes.

The Arrival is a sensory treat from start to finish, owing a to a production team that's not only individually capable but collaborate to a level such that the results far transcends the sum of its parts. John Verryt's set design is not only strikingly beautiful with a surreal, Tim Burton-esque aesthetic, but ingeniously clever and unconventional. Jeremy Fern's lighting design completes the visual aesthetic with an expansive palette that includes mottled blue and violet for night-time scenes to warm amber for the daytime, with bolder iterations of both towards the climactic end. Lighting and set design coordinate to produce something emergent when facilitating the various kinds of puppetry – particularly the kinds relying on light and shadow. Andrew McMillan's composition and sound design adds to the film-like quality of The Arrival, with a soundscape that ranges from whimsical percussion and poignant instrumental, to terror and despair distilled into aural form.

The journey on stage in The Arrival extends beyond the narrative; it is also a journey into the transportive qualities of live theatre at its best, of the expressive capabilities of movement and mime, and the seemingly limitless range of the kinds of magic that can happen on stage. Behind the fantasy-like story on the surface lies weighty, pertinent themes that adults can appreciate; showing that theatre can be relevant yet still fun. The Arrival is a one-of-the-kind theatre experience that will leave an indelible impression on audience members young and old, and a fantastic introduction to the world of theatre.

Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★

The Arrival

Presented by Red Leap Theatre and Out of the Box Festival 
Concept and Imagery Design: Kate Parker
Direction: Julie Nolan
Set Design: John Verryt
Lighting Design: Jeremy Fern
Composition and Sound Design: Andrew McMillan 

5-8 July 2018

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Charlene Li is an arts junkie with a few too many interests. She thinks the Brisbane arts scene is Australia's best kept secret.