The Arrival team standing in front of the dock water

Art & Culture

Get your tickets now for a world-class immersive theatre experience

The ARRIVAL theatre adventure starts with engaging workshops to help the people of the Royal Docks tell its story, before culminating in a spectacular live performance projected onto the facade of the Millennium Mills.

ARRIVAL is a live theatrical adventure, but more than that it’s a way for local people to make their mark on the Royal Docks and tell its story to London. “Two things [are] intrinsic to ARRIVAL – people and place,” says Sophie Ellerby, the writer and theatre maker who’s part of the award-winning artistic team behind ARRIVAL. The goal is to bring people together through a rich range of performances in the Royal Docks, transforming this unique landscape into an open-air urban stage for a live production in October.

ARRIVAL is being brought to the Royal Docks by performance art production company imPOSSIBLE, alongside Jon Bausor and Matthew Dunster. You’ve likely already encountered the work of this impressive team on the greatest of stages: designer Jon masterminded the opening ceremony of 2012’s Paralympic Games, while Matthew is currently directing Lily Allen’s West End debut, 2:22 – A GHOST STORY.

I thought, oh my God, I've just, in 30 seconds, experienced two radically different worlds and they're right on each other's doorstep.

Matthew Dunster, coming to the Royal Docks for the first time

Stories told in many ways

The idea for ARRIVAL struck director Matthew during his first visit to Royal Docks: “I thought, oh my God, I've just, in 30 seconds, experienced two radically different worlds and they're right on each other's doorstep.” His impression of this patchwork of environments – everything from the open water of the dock to the quiet streets cradling the Britannia Village Hall – made him feel like he was constantly arriving somewhere new. Rather than a singular event, arrival here was constant – every corner turned, person met and thought shared sparking a new arrival of some kind. “One of the things we now want to bring to the Royal Docks is new people: a new set of arrivals,” says Matthew.

Last month, Matthew, along with Sophie, beatbox artist and composer Conrad Murray, and five other artists from several different disciplines, led free, open-to-all taster sessions at Royal Docks. They were an opportunity for anyone from as young as twelve to drop in and create something they wanted to share.

The trio sitting and talking together in the docks

The Arrival team in the Royal Docks

The ARRIVAL artists were committed to making sure these taster sessions were led by the people contributing. And that meant nothing was off limits. The sessions let attendees express themselves through singing, dance, drumming and physical performance, or in other ways they were more comfortable with. “We were open to anything. Maybe you wanted to juggle? We’d find a way to make it part of what we’re doing.” says Conrad.

ARRIVAL is designed to be inclusive and empowering, which is why there are so many entry points for people regardless of confidence, ability or experience. Once someone got in touch, the creative team helped them decide how best to tell their story, something that was different for everybody.

Matthew, Sophie and Conrad are also looking for helpful volunteers to bring their energy and enthusiasm to the project. “There may be some who choose to join us for a week, while others might become more embedded in the whole process, rehearsing with the team throughout. This isn’t just about the show itself, but it’s also about giving people confidence and experience working with professionals,” says Matthew.

Conrad adjusting his cap

Conrad Murray

Led by adventure

As a site-specific theatre piece, the other crucial element of ARRIVAL is the landscape of the Royal Docks. Choreographing the performances across acres of winding pathways, historic bridges, hidden parks and, of course, the expanse of open water, the creative team at the helm are hardly short of potential to play with. They believe interweaving stories with the landscape itself has the power to change perceptions of place, cutting it up and redrawing it in a way entirely new to the audience. “Something as simple as being made to cross the water in a way they’ve never had to before could help them disengage from the image in their mind, and see it, and their place within it, in an entirely new light,” says Matthew.

Staging ARRIVAL against multiple backdrops transforms it into something more than spectacle: it makes it an adventure. The act of exploration and sense of stumbling upon the next instalment as you make your way round is all part of the immersive experience being curated.

Sound recordings delivered through headsets will intensify this sense of journey, keeping the audience wrapped up in the ongoing story as they migrate between sites. It also means those more comfortable keeping a safe distance from others can still engage closely with the power of the performances. “The job of the adventure is to slowly peel the layers away and reveal more. We hope the legacy of what we’re doing is that everybody explores their space a little bit more and really thinks of it as theirs,” says Sophie.

The job of the adventure is to slowly peel the layers away and reveal more. We hope the legacy of what we’re doing is that everybody explores their space a little bit more and really thinks of it as theirs.

Sophie Ellerby

Matthew standing in front of a boat

Matthew Dunster

Changing perspectives

ARRIVAL’s centrepiece will be a film projected onto the facade of the iconic Millennium Mills at the south side of the Royal Docks. Viewed from the other side of the water, it’ll not only provide an atmospheric setting but also an unfamiliar perspective of the Royal Docks, even for those who consider themselves intimately familiar with it.

“Something we’re constantly asking ourselves is 'What are the differences and what are the similarities? How can those two stories have a conversation with each other in the landscape?’” says Matthew. The layering of the present onto a building so representative of the past is in itself a bold statement highlighting the ever-present theme of arrival: a relic reanimated with the living, breathing stories of today.

ARRIVAL is produced by performance art production company imPOSSIBLE, Jon Bausor and Matthew Dunster.

You can buy tickets for ARRIVAL here.

The ARRIVAL team outside Lightship 93, a historic lighthouse vessel in the Royal Docks

Sophie, Matthew and Conrad are ready for the show