Writer &Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Reviewer: Jack Trott
Think you know Alan Ayckbourn’s plays? Then think again. Arrivals &Departures is no Ayckbourn middle of the road farce, everyday characters on a gentle romp, this is as gritty, contemporary and heartfelt as it gets. This is Britain’s most prolific playwright at his best, a roller coaster ride of discovery, a lesson to all budding writers on character development and revelation.
Writer and director Ayckbourn still keeps his usual comedic farce and parodies of normal people and lulls the audience into a false sense of a plot unfolding before gradually revealing the deeper and darker sides to the two main characters, and the real story. While not set in any normal situation, an undercover ‘sting’ operation in a train station, the normality of two strangers being thrust together pushes to the fore, their deeply hidden emotional fragility unfolds in snippets to the audience.
Barry, a sanguine, happy-go-lucky and chatty Yorkshireman plays the opposite to Ez, a broody and sullen Home Counties girl. They contrast though never eclipse each the other, whereas Barry is likeable but annoyingly over friendly, Ez is withdrawn and awkward. Elizabeth Boag’s Ez is the exact picture of an army career woman, she has all the expressions and posture perfectly portrayed, as convincingly acted as it gets. Kim Wall’s Barry is a joy to watch, acted as if he himself was plucked from the streets of Harrogate straight on to stage.
If there hadn’t been a notice stating understudy, Peter Halpin, had taken on one of the main rôles of Major Quentin it wouldn’t have been evident in the slightest, indeed it seems difficult to imagine the play without him playing the part. With the ensemble cast playing a myriad of different rôles, this could have been confusing but each was different and distinctive, allowing the story to unfold without distraction.
Arrivals &Departures shows Ayckbourn’s artistic prowess as a playwright and director is not waning, in fact, incredibly he seems to be still improving and developing. This is a brilliant new arrival and a departure from any farce before, dark, fizzing undertones bubbling away beneath the surface, ready to explode outwardly are subtlety suppressed, this is quite possible the best of his plays yet.
Runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre along with other Ayckbourn plays until Saturday 22nd February then continues on tour.
Photo: Tony Barthlomew