The Arrival, Bush Theatre

A Must See.

The Arrival is an intelligently intriguing new play by writer/director Bijan Sheibani. It begins with the meeting between older brother, Tom, and younger brother Samad, instigated by Tom, who was adopted. Tom found his birth parents and discovered they went on to have 2 more children Samad and a daughter, Yasmin, after his adoption.

Sheibani is a superb writer who has created an enthralling two hander; a drama that is brilliant in its normality and familiarity. Watching Scott Karim, as Tom and Ifran Shamji as Samad is, initially, like eavesdropping on a date, with each person trying to impress the other. Karim is very authentic as the older brother who seeks to form a relationship with his birth parents, Samad, Yasmin and her family. When Tom and Samad first meet, it appears as if they have similar personality traits, however it emerges that this is just wishful thinking. As Tom instructs Samad on his fitness regime, Samad initially tries to keep up with him, in the competitive way younger siblings do. In reality Shamji’s Samad approaches this new friendship as if he is trying on new clothes; he finds that he doesn’t like how it feels or how he looks and ends up discarding them; using and hurting Tom. Samad discovers he doesn’t want to develop a close relationship with his brother. He believes his role in the family is being usurped, as he is the older brother, not Tom. Tom had hoped that his birth family would be welcoming, although he doesn’t harbour any illusions, as he had witnessed the fallout from his adopted sister’s attempts to develop a relationship with her birth family.

Scott Karim as Tom and Ifran Shamji as Samad.

Both Karim and Shamji are wonderfully natural performers, crafted by Sheibani’s tightly written script and direction. Their relationship starts with Tom in big brother mode and Samad easily slipping into kid brother mode. They show a reciprocal willingness to make the relationship work. Samad at one point, due to circumstances, takes advantage by moving in with Tom for a short while. Shamji’s nuanced ambiguity as Samad is so genuine, it makes you wonder was Samad exploiting the situation, or did he really want a closer bond with his big brother? Whatever his real motivation, he ends up treating Tom like an embarrassment and freezes him out of his life. Samad’s cruelty is very upsetting, as you know that Tom must feel be reliving his feelings  of being rejected by his birth family and is left traumatised. I loathed Samad at these times, but also had residual sympathy for  his confusion about how to deal with having a new big brother and his guilt at being raised by birth parents unlike Tom and his feelings of antipathy and jealousy for Tom. I disliked Tom, when he was bossing Samad around and empathised with Samad.

This concise play is dynamic and very naturalistic.  There is a lot of humour and awkwardness in the interactions between the fraternal strangers. Their conversations range from small talk about travelling and work, to the triviality of daily routines, through to the minutiae of personal and romantic matters, which stray into over sharing. I must emphasise Karim’s and Shamji’s skills in conveying their relationship so naturally, particularly as the two of them are present at all times, on a minimalist set, comprising of a few key props and a change of clothes. Together with mime, the use of music, and the razor sharp dialogue, these talented actors allow the audience to colour in the rest, without being aware that we are using our imaginations.

Make sure you see this new production, which at only an hour and ten minutes, punches well above its weight. Don’t miss one of the best plays of 2019.

All photos by Marc Brenner.

The Arrival is at The Bush Theatre from 21 November 2019 to 18 January 2020.


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