Review: The Arrival, Bush Theatre

On the surface, brothers Tom and Samad share many similarities: their complexions, the time it takes for their ligaments to heal, the emotional generosity with which they open their lives up to each other – but not their parents. Tom was given up for adoption as a baby whilst Samad remained with their biological parents. This provides the taught crux of Bijan Sheibani’s The Arrival. A play about identity, finding yourself in others and the acceptance and love we all perpetually crave. 

Both Scott Karim as Tom and Irfan Shamji as Samad give monumental performances. Tentative introductions rife with nervous laughter and heavy pauses make way for wounded questions with no easy answer and raw emotions that blister beneath composed exteriors. 

Tom is charismatic, assured and is immediately keen to secure his place amongst his biological relatives. Yet his ability to show conflicting and layered emotion is stunning as we see glimpses of a man whose entire sense of self is tragically precarious. So much of the success of Karim’s performance is how disciplined he is. Just as emotions spill over, where a more naïve performer might indulge the instinct to scream and flail, Karim pulls back, allowing what is left unsaid to truly hammer home the devastation. 

Samad is a far more timid man. Educated, submissive and effortlessly outshone by Tom. 

But their blissful reunion does not remain so for long. Tom’s initial enthusiasm makes way for an overbearing desperation to be embraced by the family that gave him away. At the prospect of being overshadowed by ‘the prodigal son’ Samad’s jealous flames lick at Tom’s heels. With a meticulous command over story and tone, the undercurrent of hurt and anger rises closer to the surface. Each new detail is a deadly drop of poison tarnishing the burgeoning relationship until trusting and vulnerable Tom is rejected all over again.  

Samal Blak’s stage juxtaposes the highly complex emotional landscape of the piece with a striking minimal set. A rotating circular stage serves as a fitting metaphor for each man’s emotional state. Samad stands in the centre of the stage as his brother is exiled to the periphery. The two race around the stage on bikes seeming to physically and emotionally circle around that which they never fully discuss. Why did Tom get given away but Samad was kept? How much is he even wanted now? Towards the end of the play Tom curls alone, and adrift, once again the abandoned baby he once was. 

Through coloured lights and musical interludes we are conveyed through the years as Tom’s estrangement from his brother becomes more pronounced.

At some point an invisible line is crossed. Samad is no longer answering for the crimes of his parents but committing his own. That is where a great deal of the pain in this piece lies. The tumultuous complexity of human relationships is explored with care and understanding in The Arrival. Sheibani’s debut is a bracing and heart rending story and about the loyalties owed to our blood.

The Arrival is playing at the Bush Theatre until 18 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Bush Theatre website