Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has a reputation of wonder. They bring both the minutiae of life and the big ideas to children with their stunning designs, beautiful puppets, and high-quality performers. Who better then, to stage The Arrival, Shaun Tan‘s exquisite textless tale to life? The Dolphin Theatre at UWA is transformed into an exotic world through the talents of animation designer Michael Barlow. The clever screening acts as a set and a blank canvas for Tan’s beautiful illustrations to come to life. Barlow’s animation is obviously reverent of Tan’s dynamic designs. In the book, they appear to be moving already, and Barlow’s talents create an entire world which is foreign, yet strangely familiar at the same time. One thing is for sure, though, it is a beautiful world.
It really is the absolute charm of the actors, combined with the beautiful and surreal aesthetic of Tan’s work and absolutely stunning soundtrack by composer Lee Buddle that make The Arrival one of the more memorable theatre experiences. It serves as a simple reminder that immigration is driven by people, with real hearts and lungs breathing the same air as one another. From the moment the migrant sets foot on the boat, he is jostled about, kicked from pillar to post and confronted with exotic acquaintances. He smiles his happy-go-lucky smile and keeps his most precious items close – his hat, a letter in the shape of a paper bird from his daughter, and of course the family portrait.
These limited possessions provide a beacon of hope in an otherwise despairing situation, and he uses them to fuel his resolve. Faced with exotic people, exotic foodstuffs, no language and no connections, the migrant stays cheerful. Of course, no Spare Parts show would be complete without the puppets! The migrant joins in the whimsy of a friendly spat between two rather strange looking creatures, in a moment reminiscent of Punch and Judy. In a screen mediated culture, this is a nice hearkening back to the roots of children’s entertainment.
After ‘Bluey’ follows the migrant to his temporary accommodation, he finds a friend in the strange creature. He explores the strange world and finds a way to navigate it, sharing connections with his landlady and new work colleague. His stalwart love and yearning for his family bring him to the ultimate conclusion, as people all come together to help one another. The Arrival is a charming work. Each playful move, each friendly pat, each whimsical moment expresses a camaraderie that humankind all share if we really are generous with it. The humanity exposed is beautiful, and children (grown up or not) will delight in the simplicity of the tale.
Written by Fourth Wall Media, July 2017