The first thing that strikes you about The Arrival at Bush Theatre is how intimate it all is.
Bijan Sheibani, the play’s writer and director, sets out to make you feel immersed in the lives of its two characters, Tom (played by Scott Karim) and Samad (Irfan Shamji).
And not just immersed, but uncomfortably so. There are times when you feel as though you’ve walked in on a private moment, and you want nothing more than to edge backwards out of the room.
Even the humour, and there’s plenty of it because The Arrival is a very funny play, feels uncomfortable.
And it’s all entirely deliberate.
Tom and Samad are biological brothers, meeting for the first time in their 30s after Tom was given up for adoption.
The 70 minutes that follows is an exploration of how their newly formed relationship develops, the similarities and differences that they share and what that relationship means to each of them.
Before you even sit down, you can tell that this is a play more interested in substance than style.
The Bush Theatre’s Holloway Theatre is almost oppressively small, with a small rotating stage at its heart, making it clear that there won’t be any flashy theatrics. It’s just you and the two men on stage.
Plays like this will live and die then on their writing and their acting. I’ve seen plays before where both have been patchy, but the spectacle has glossed it over. In this play, there’s nowhere to hide.
Here the acting is excellent and the writing is solid.
Both characters are fascinating and multi-layered, and as their relationship flows, I found my sympathies and my feelings towards them fluctuating.
The plot is very streamlined, though less climactic and arguably less dramatic than I expected.
While I felt that that worked well, particularly since it’s a short play, there were one or two elements I wanted to see given more attention in the play’s slightly choppier second half.
But this is a play that isn’t interested in grand revelations, although there are a handful, but in the quieter moments of a relationship.
That’s not to say that there’s no theatrical flourishes either. For a play that is very stripped down, the use of the stage itself is excellent. With the audience all very close, the spacing between the characters and how they use the area at their disposal is very deliberate and very clever.
As is the use of music. At times in the middle of the play it feels like there might be too many breaks in momentum – and certainly having 16 scenes in a 70 minute play means there’s not much room for it to breathe – but the emotional moments and deliberate musical choices in the transitions help to keep the play flowing.
I think the biggest thing that stuck with me after the play was how it managed to take a scenario I have no personal experience with, and yet feel like it related directly to my life. Although the play is explicitly about adoption, it manages to speak directly to how humans form relationships and how the people in our lives affect us.
Overall the Arrival, is a very clever, very poignant piece of theatre that I found interesting and intimate, even if it left me wanting a bit more.
The Arrival is showing at the Bush Theatre until January 18, 2020 and tickets start from £10. Feature image credit: Marc Brenner.