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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Arrival
Bush Theatre   Autumn 2019

A man who was adopted as a child meets his birth family as an adult. He and his new younger brother are at first excited and eager to connect.

But over time they sadly discover they have less in common than they might have hoped and that sustaining a friendship is harder work and more painful than is worth it.

Bijan Sheibani's two-character play is actually not about the perils or emotional fallout of adoption. Its real insight lies in the way both men are forced to experience emotions they don't have the words for, and how that inability to express themselves, even to themselves, is crippling and frustrating.

The Arrival is also about frustration of another sort. Because the men cannot say what they are thinking and feeling, the audience is deprived of the sort of information we tend to expect from characters in plays. And so The Arrival challenges our expectations of what a playwright owes us.

Of course we have been here before, with Harold Pinter, but Sheibani puts his own stamp on the play that doesn't tell us everything. We experience The Arrival on two levels, as a study in inability to communicate and as a lesson in how a playwright's selective refusal to communicate can generate a paradoxically satisfying frustration for us.

Sheibani recalls early Pinter in other ways as well, by delivering what exposition he offers only as he goes along – it takes a while for us to be able to piece together the adoption backstory – and by appreciating the communicative power of silences.

The printed text offers detailed instructions on the differences between 'beats,' 'pauses,' 'long pauses' and 'silences,' and we may sense more about the men's emotions from what they can't say than from what they can.

Playwrights are not always the best directors of their own work, but in this case we have a talented and experienced director effectively bringing his theatrical instincts to playwriting.

The play certainly offers challenges and opportunities to the two actors, Scott Karim and Irfan Shamji, which director Sheibani guides them to make the most of.

The Arrival makes demands of close attention on the audience, and rewards it with an engrossing and thought-provoking hour.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Arrival - Bush Theatre 2019