January in Sydney is Sydney Festival time. I love the idea of the Sydney Festival - three balmy summer weeks of very broadly defined arts and cultural events with challenging and esoteric theatre and music interspersed with popular cultural events - often freely accessible. The almost chaos and edginess of the Festival suits Sydney's spirit.
But most years the Festival seems to finish before I've organised myself to participate as much as I would like. Following as it does so closely on Christmas festivities and end-of-the-year exhaustion, I rarely manage to purchase the festival tickets I want before they're sold out, and the balmy summer weather is, in reality, often either unbearably hot or inconveniently rainy.
This year is going to be different - at least a bit. My friend Jan has organised tickets for several events, and I'm determined to manage some other public performances. I'm off to a good start - last night I went with a friend who was visiting to see 'The Arrival' at Carriageworks.
The Carriageworks is my local theatre. It's a refashioning of the yawning spaces claimed from the old Eveleigh Railway workshops and is an easy ten minute walk from home. The vast shed outside the entrance to the theatre and foyer spaces is where the Eveleigh farmers' and artisans' markets are held.
'The Arrival' is a captivating work. I guess you might call it mime, because it is largely wordless, but it's also dance, puppetry, shadows and the most wonderful manipulation of screens and blocks to evoke city- and land-scapes. It's an archetypal immigrant story of a man who leaves his family in a war-ravaged country to encounter the puzzling challenges of life, language, culture, friendship and work in a new society. I don't think I'm spoiling the story to tell you it ends with a happy reunion with his family in the new land.
The company is a New Zealand group called Red Leap Theatre, and the work is derived from a book of the same name by Australian graphic novelist Shaun Tan. It reproduces the spirit and often the design of his detailed, somewhat surreal, often fable-like work. It's advertised as being suitable for anybody aged above six, and certainly the children at the performance we attended were engaged by it. I think it's one of those works that's accessible in many different ways and at many levels.
I'm very pleased I saw this wonderful work - even though it didn't move my heart. I like words - good words - and I like narrative, and fables don't usually appeal to me. But as fables go, this one was most creatively, delicately and evocatively realised.