Monday, April 7, 2014

The Play’s the thing

I was pretty keen on reading an adaption of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival as a play.

I mean, a wordless book turned into a theatrical production?  Whaaaa?

Well, while it might be said to be ‘based’ on the book it turns out not to be a direct, page-by-page adaption but is better described as a companion piece to the novel.

Which doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have a place in the classroom. 

If you're studying immigration and the migrant experience, then this little play would be very relevant.  It follows three main characters as they think about their lives living in a different country, separated from their families. There are several minor characters of various ethnicities filling out the cast.  They represent the commonalities experienced among immigrants.  One of the characters even says that “We are all in the same boat now!” speaking both physically and metaphorically.  Tan’s male character also undergoes some of the same experiences, leaving his family, sailing on a ship, arriving in a new country, coping with culture shock and meeting new people, often other immigrants.  These overarching occurrences certainly tie the book and the play together.

The play provides stage directions that indicate that at several points, Tan’s illustrations from the book will be projected onto a screen.

This book could be used as an example of adapting one kind of literary work into a different format.  In a conversation with Shaun Tan that is included at the front of the play, we learn that he is also working on the early phases of a feature-length project also based on The Arrival.  He says, “this would be yet another interpretation of story concepts that is likely to depart significantly from the original book, simply because the medium is so different – so quite a challenge.”

I can only imagine what the challenges might be but I'm also very keen to see what this project will look like.

Overall, reading the play is not as rich an experience as reading Tan’s The Arrival.  However, I think watching this play might be the best way to take it in. It incorporates acrobatic and circus-like elements to help impart the story. It looks fascinating.  Take a look and decide for yourself:


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