Theatre Review: ‘The Arrival’ @ Teatret Gruppe 38


By Gwendolin Güntzel

Why arriving always has so much to do with looking back home…

‘The Arrival’ is a production by Teater Rio Rose, based in Copenhagen. The theatre focuses on modern fairy-tales for adults. The plays are normally developed through improvising and devising methods, so a story has the chance to arise. Teater Rio Rose has already toured in Europe, Japan and Canada, and gave guest performances at Teatret Gruppe 38 in Aarhus on November 1-2. Join for a lively picture book voyage to a fantastic world, like you have never experienced before.

Risk a vision
The plot can be summarised as follows: A man leaves his family and his old life in an industrial and dirty, grey-looking town. Saying ‘goodbye’ to his wife and daughter feels hard for him. He takes the train and travels to another bigger and brighter city, where he is overwhelmed by an unknown language and completely different surroundings. Everything looks more brilliant. He applies for a new passport, and as soon as he gets it, he is allowed to continue his journey.

ankomsten2_tegner_shaun_tan_teater_rio_rose_2015An emotional goodbye (image: Teater Rio Rose)

With a balloon, he flies to another planet where everything seems even more exciting and strange at the same time. He discovers food he has never eaten before, he sees buildings which look so abnormal with their arched walls, and he wonders why flying ships are responsible for public transport. After his arrival, he has to find a place to live and soon gets lost; he cannot find the way. But people seem friendly and try to help him.

In his new flat, he makes acquaintance with a creature looking like a Pokémon, which will later become his companion. In the following days, he becomes closer to the new, exciting world and meets new friends who also flew from dangerous living conditions.

ankomsten__tegner_shaun_tan_teater_rio_rose_2015New companions in a strange new world (image: Teater Rio Rose)

When he finally finds a proper job, everything could be fine, but the man misses his family a lot. During the next months the new life becomes the daily routine, but he still does not get over the biggest loss in his life: being without his family. One day he finally receives a letter: his family is allowed to come and settle in as well. Not until then, when his wife and his daughter eventually arrive, does he start feeling at home.

Picture a vision
Author and illustrator Shaun Tan created a modern fantasy myth with cross-fade connected drawings telling the story by themselves. All the play needs is a screen in the middle of the stage. Via video projector, paintings appear as sequenced frames. There is no conversation on stage, no single word is spoken. Combining in and out zooms, the audience soon forgets that the performance on stage only consists of sequenced drawings. What may feel a bit uncomfortable right at the beginning, soon becomes like watching a film.

ankomsten10_francesco_cali_foto_robin_skjoldborg_teater_rio_rose-lilleFrancesco Calì accompanies images within sounds (photo: Teatret Gruppe 38)

Sepia coloured paintings reflect present happenings, whereas black and white illustrations symbolise flashbacks. All of the drawings have the same style and are rich in detail. Watching them feels like an automatic turn to the next page in the picture book. The cross-fades vary in length and arrangement. But a more minimalistic use of different cross-fades might be better to ensure that flow and understanding of the story will not be disturbed.

Sound as a vision
Composer and pianist Thomas Clausen and accordionist Francesco Calì set the drawings to music. The music supports the plot and illustrates the protagonist’s feelings. In the first part, when he leaves home, the music is deep and dark and sounds dramatic, whereas the music is more dynamic and swinging when he has a nice dinner with new friends. The music could be described as echoism or similarly, as sounds on vision.

The style is related to music played in the 1920s/30s, when the piano was used to generate various emotions. The accordion is also called the ‘ship’s piano’ and could be seen as a symbol of the man’s journey. The two musicians are the only persons who appear on stage. Suitable for the music they play, both are dressed in black suits with hats; one musician wears a bow tie, the other a neck tie.

ankomsten8_thomas_clausen_foto_robin_skjoldborg_teater_rio_rosePianist Thomas Clausen (photo: Teatret Gruppe 38)

The vision
‘The Arrival’ is literally a framework of visual sequences and illustrating melodies that definitely succeed in putting the audience in the man’s mind – sometimes, there is not a big gap between feeling lost and feeling pleased.

Although the combination of drawings, music and costumes lets us think back to the 1930’s, the story’s plot offers new spheres to a science fiction dream world. A place worth coming to.

‘The Arrival’ tells a story of intolerable living conditions and a desire to escape, a story about chances worth taking risks for. Besides that, it questions how much courage a better future really needs. Without stressing the latest refugee movements, the play symbolises how hard new beginnings feel and what leaving an old life behind actually means.

The play’s appeal: Home is not just a circumstance you can force, it is a feeling you reach while being together with people you love.


‘The Arrival’ only had a two-day run at Aarhus’ Teatret Gruppe 38, but is on tour throughout Denmark on several more dates in November, as well as throughout February and March 2017. Find out where and when you can see the show here.

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