Director and playwright Bijan Sheibani’s visceral and emotionally dense two-hander is both sensuous and cerebral. A small and short play comprised of a series of encounters and re-encounters all pregnant with years of expectation and longing, Sheibani takes us on an eventful ride that is not ‘thrills-and-spills’ but is warm, rich, painful and true.
Tom (Scott Karim) is the arrival: an older brother to Samad (Irfan Shamji) not previously known. Initially infatuated with genetic similarities and a rarefied sense of ‘belonging’, cultivated from years of romanticised notions of his biological family, Tom, wiry and eager, adopts the ‘big brother’ persona with all the vigour predicted by the need for psychological survival. The mild-mannered, pudgier, Samad reflects the ‘chosen’ son – soft and pampered with his Cambridge degree and upper-middle-class accent inadvertently casting a shadow on Tom’s redbrick education and more demotic diction.
Fantasies of belonging reveal depths of longing in both men. The offstage families are made a real presence via the stars’ story-telling that makes us realise how little anyone can know another outside of their wishful thinking.
Sheibani’s script reads with the micro-managerial directorial detail that can drive actors nuts but he elicits pitch-perfect performances from both men. In finely physical acting, supported with Aline David’s outstanding movement direction, both Karim and Shamji show us the subtext their words attempt to hide with exquisite and muscularly-tuned presence. It is testament to the skill of both actors and the director that when the simple revolve stage stops and half the audience is behind one of the brothers’ backs, no nuance of expression is lost. Quite the contrary: it is a treat to listen to the words and bear witness to the embodiment of the feelings that are unspoken but expressed through such theatrical command.
Samal Blak’s set is economical and gracefully serves as a pedestal on which to place expectations of others. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design is crucial to the mood-building and he doesn’t miss a trick nor does Gareth Fry whose sound design must create an enveloping soundtrack of emotional and scenic transitions as well as build significant aspects of the worlds we will occupy during this drama.
There is a courage in this simple reunion story that quietly offers hope against the cacophonous rage of toxic masculinity and its consequences. Neither saintly nor sinister, these imperfect, likeable humans inspire connection without fanfare. The Arrival is touching, honest and exquisitely delivered theatre for our times.
Review by Mary Beer
When Tom meets Samad it’s like he’s coming face to face with himself. They have the same gestures, the same instincts – even the same handwriting.
But as they get closer and their lives become more entangled, the truth of their past threatens to bring everything crashing to the ground.
The Arrival is a taut family drama about the pain of finding – and losing – something you never had.
A debut play from Olivier Award-winning theatre director Bijan Sheibani (Dance Nation, The Brothers Size, Barber Shop Chronicles).
Bush Theatre presents
Written and directed by Bijan Sheibani
21 November – 18 January (no performances 22 Dec – 1 Jan)