The Arrival (Bush Theatre, until January 18th)
A persuasive drama underlining the need to keep siblings together when adoption happens forms the heart of the authoritative The Arrival, receiving its world premiere at the Bush Theatre.
Better known for his hard-hitting direction of such plays as The Brothers Size, A Taste of Honey and Barber Shop Chronicles, Bijan Sheibani turns to writing with this debut one act play, which he also directs.
The confident writing is potent, the nuanced direction robust in this two-hander which takes the simple premise of English Iranian brothers meeting as adults for the first time after one was adopted as a child.
There is, of course, a sting in the tale: the stirring family reunion also opens up years of suspicion, hurt, devastating truths, tension and vulnerability. Questions about nature, nurture and masculinity come to the fore as the brothers, who are little more than strangers to each other, struggle to communicate though they initially get on.
The emotional depth of the encounter is played out in the round on a raised bare circular stage (designed by Samal Blak), which occasionally rotates, so attention is focussed on the lines and performances.
And the two performances perfectly bring the finely written script to life in a breathless succession of short and pithy scenes, meaningful episodes in the lives of two brothers joined together biologically yet worlds apart emotionally. Despite the attributes they share a key part of the play is wondering if they will ever be able to connect deeper down.
There are tense scenes when we witness the physical strength of the two brothers, through cycling, running and dancing though the younger brother is clearly the one less fit of the two, drawing other complexities to the surface.
Scott Karim’s Tom is the arrival of the title, a computer specialist who runs his own business. He is never quite able to shake off the gnawing sense of abandonment by his parents all those years ago, yet is eager to embrace his “new family.” Karim manages to balance the nervous energy of one excitedly rediscovering his past with the tragic realisation that those he left behind have lived their lives pretty happily without him.
On the other side is Irfan Shamji’s Samad, the younger brother who has to adjust to the new situation and who is far less enamoured by the thought of meeting a brother he barely knew about or his family. This brother has had far more opportunities in life (such as public school and a university education) yet is content in his publishing business and anxious about this possible interloper. He is far more uncertain of himself and wary of his brother, but he feels he has more to lose with a possible new rival to family affections.
The two actors prowl around each other verbally and physically with a grace and purpose – no wonder there was a need for Aline David as movement director. It is like watching two sparring partners in a boxing ring, each with a reserved respect for the other but both knowing there will come a time to fight and win. The revolving stage allows the actors to chase each other, cycle, overtake each other, even dance around one another, as much a study and test of physicality and endurance as masculinity.
There are times when there seems to be a meeting of minds, brothers torn apart by circumstance with a heartfelt yearning for some kind of reconciliation; at others we appear to be watching a Cain and Abel rivalry that can only end badly.
Even though less is more in this play the writing and performances are such that you want it to last longer. It could be argued that the exact reason for Tom’s adoption is never spelt out and this information would be helpful in a piece that often veers towards the enigmatic, but there isn’t really the time to worry about such omissions.
Sheibani’s skill is in taking the domestic crisis and holding up a mirror to a broader view of society and a world scared to explore emotions or be true to ourselves. The audience is left desperately wanting – perhaps even needing – the brothers to understand one another and re-form a part of their lives so sadly missing, but the cruel reality is that the future doesn’t look bright.
The Arrival is a confident and intelligent new work that once again shows off the Bush as a testing ground for fresh drama to be reckoned with. It is a play with such vitality at every level that you can only leave the theatre out of breath.
Images, Marc Brenner
A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls http://www.thespyinthestalls.com/