Part of the Royal Docks Festival, Arrival is a community led promenade piece that is full of heart, created from the stories of local Newnham residents and performed with young people from the area.
On arrival at a hidden outdoor site, we are handed colour-coded headphones and told to follow our designated colour’s ‘lightsabre’-wielding ushers. This is clearly and efficiently managed, with three separate groups travelling at different times. Through the headphones we hear various accounts from habitants of the area in the 1990s, but although the audio is engaging, it’s not clear what we are supposed to be doing with ourselves or where to look, and this confusion lasts for about ten minutes. Next, the rather subjective and ambiguous physical work begins. Young performers dance around on the green with some furniture, and rave music plays. We walk down a street and the era changes to the 1940s – a wartime party. This is one of the best sections of the evening, especially for the brief moment where we are led to believe that people are dancing on top of cars! The air raid siren sounds (as chillingly as ever) before we are taken through to the next section.
Around halfway through the performance all of the audience groups (previously separated for ease of walking and to allow more viewing space) are thrown back together, which causes a real confusion. A DJ plays a set as community groups act and dance around the open space, but it’s not entirely clear what is going on or what any of this means.
‘Walking on water’ is a segment many audience members would have been looking forward to I’m sure. The section is undermined by audience overcrowding, along with the requirement to have a modern smartphone with a working data connection in order to experience the virtual reality designs that have been created. Even for those of us that had the correct devices, the QR code still proved tricky to scan.
By this point in the evening the lightsabre-wielding ushers have all but disappeared and the large crowd of audience members hopelessly wander down the docks looking for the next section of performance. The piece finishes with a video projected onto the side of the Millennium Mills building. It is of various locals, with a range of ethnicities and ages, who talk about their own history in the area, the present and what they hope for in the future. Finally, this is a well put together piece of art that, for the first time in the two hour performance, is clear about what it is saying.
Arrival’s strengths are in its diversity and sense of community. The event’s organisation starts superbly but falters halfway through. It’s a terrifically ambitious event that has glimpses of quality but is overall on too large a scale to engage effectively with its often confused and overwhelmed audience.
Directed by: Matthew Dunster and Jon Bausor
Produced by: imPOSSIBLE
Arrival has completed its current run. Check the company’s website for future productions and dates.