The Arrival – Bush Theatre, London

Writer/Director: Bijan Sheibani

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

There is something about a circular stage, of a play performed in the round, which feels particularly appropriate for the examination of sibling relationships. Think of Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, for example, with Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman circling each other before colliding together like super-accelerated particles. Or Ogun and Oshoosi in The Brothers Size, struggling to adjust after the younger sibling is released from prison.

The latter play’s revival in 2018 at the Young Vic was directed by Bijan Sheibani, who now turns playwright for a modern-day story about a brother struggling to reconnect with his birth family, having been adopted as a baby. Scott Karim’s Tom and Irfan Shamji’s Samad do not initially come across as all that similar: Tom is a super-fit marathon runner, while Samad is out of shape; Tom is an assertive alpha male, while his younger brother is more easygoing.

The brothers’ first meetings are shy, awkward, and tentative, like a date in which each likes the other, but is wary of disclosing quite how much. Between scenes, Sheibani often has the brothers perform the same actions, each keenly watching the other: it’s never quite clear whether they are looking for signs of similarity, or mimicking the other in hope of the same.

The exploration of the reasons for Tom’s adoption is handled sensitively Karim and Shamji, as they explore Tom’s sense of loss at being given up by the parents who went on to raise two children. But neither man ever really opens up about what the experience has done, and is doing, to their own psyche.

Movement around Samal Blak’s rotating disc of a set suggests that the two brothers are constantly circling around their feelings. Together with movement director Aline David, with whom he frequently collaborates, Sheibani adds a fluidity of motion which reveals as much about the two brother’s differences as the inter-scene mimes show about their similarities.

As the pair’s suppressed feeling erupt during an excruciatingly believable wedding reception, fuelled by alcohol and resentment, the complexity of their relationship deepens still further. By the end of the play’s 70 minutes, one is left with a deep sense of sadness that these two characters – each locale in their own, separate way – may reconcile, but will never be truly happy. And while that may sound like a despairing note on which to end, it’s more a sign of the emotional complexity with which Sheibani has crafted his tale.

Runs until 18 January 2020 | Image: Contributed

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Emotionally complex

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