The Arrival
A Theatre Production

In 2004-5, while working with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre on the 'Aqua-sapiens' project, I began discussing with director Philip Mitchell the possibility of adapting a new book about the journey of a migrant as a stage production. It seemed like a story that would translate well to the stage, and particularly as the book itself incorporated images of real people and imaginary landscapes, objects and creatures which (as you can see from the above) are easily translated as puppets.

At that stage, the book was not even half-finished, but I had drafted an outline of several hundred sketches, and accumulated plenty of written ideas. I had already realised the need for simple and easily understood scenes in these drawings, especially as the book contains no actual speech or writing, and any dialogue or reactions become largely a matter of physical gesture. Partly because of this wordless representation, the story promised to have combined appeal to both children and adults, given that it can be interpreted at any level or depth.

Ideally, both the book and the performance would have been opened / published simultaneously, but I ended up taking much longer to complete my illustrations, so the ‘adaptation’ actually preceded the source! This is probably a good thing, because the play is a significant departure from the book, with different characters and storyline. The fact that theatre is a completely different medium meant that the style of the ‘world’ is quite unique, and independent of any reference to the book.

My main contribution to the project was the supply of original concepts, and a number of finished illustrations that were used as projections onto a special set designed by Jiri Zmitko, forming various backgrounds and environments. Certain elements of my drawings had been carefully edited and partially animated by Michael Barlow (also the script writer) to coincide precisely with moments of storytelling: the floating of a balloon over the city, views of a street map following the path of a wandering actor, or a character’s past told as a series of images projected on hanging laundry. Giri Mazzella gave a captivating performance as the troubled but optimistic migrant who sets about finding a room, negotiating with an agitated landlady played by Karen Hethey, and seeking work in a strange park under the guidance of a friendly groundskeeper, Giovanni Margio, but not before a number of misadventures, often involving very strange and territorial creatures! In the absence of any dialogue or other verbal narrative, the soundtrack composed by Lee Buddle carried much of the emotional weight and pace, as well as creating a sense of a mysterious other-worldliness, while still maintaining a number of evocative cross-cultural references.

An animated projection onto a stage construction composed of multiple, moveable panels. Here a balloon carrying the main character drifts through several strange landscapes.

Giri Mazella as the migrant, writing a letter home on the deck of an imaginary ship. The images on the set (a combination of front and rear projection) are taken from illustrations for the original book, re-composed, colourised and subtly animated.

Our traveller arrives at a confusing migrant processing centre. The area in the centre of the set became a secondary ‘stage’ with doors on either side through which actors could enter and exit.

The immigrant tries to make sense of the new geography. Here he is looking for a room to rent.

He makes a friend, a character the puppeteers simply called ‘blue’. It communicates through a kind of dolphin-like squeaking, and is always hungry.

Meeting the groundskeeper (Sanjiva Giovanni), here busy ‘discussing’ the meaning of hats.

 

The Arrival was well received by audiences of both adults and children, and was named ‘Best Production’ for 2006 at the Perth Theatre Trust/Actors Equity Guild Award.

For more information about the performance, visit
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, www.sppt.asn.au/framehome.htm.

For reviews of the performance, go to
The Australian – Reviews www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,19770018-5001562,00.html

Talking Squid www.talkingsquid.net/archives/79