Ayckbourn recently said that theatre ‘has to get the liveness back’ to compete with film. He certainly plays with the ‘liveness’ of theatre in Arrivals and Departures, set during an undercover military operation on a train station platform, with memories of previous ‘arrivals and departures’ for the characters blurring into the present setting.
This technique jars to begin with as it picks out the memories of Ez (Elizabeth Boag), a blunt and surly woman soldier, as she talks to Barry (Kim Wall), a civilian she is guarding who can identify their suspect. Pink light spotlights her experiencing a memory. The transitions from the present time back into memory are hardly seamless, nor did this ‘experiment’ feel very experimental.
A few moments of sparkling comedy come out the ironworks, as the play weaves its way towards really effecting tragedy. The second half repeats large amounts of material from the first, with its lines revealing new meanings as the present interacts with the intertwined memories of Barry. He is, albeit irritating, a genuinely endearing character. In the revelations of his own memories we are taught firmly not to judge by appearances.
Major Quentin Sexton is unfortunately cast, without the verve or deep resonance of voice to compel as an amusingly stereotyped uptight and rigorous soldier. He asserts his orders to the unit without any real charisma. This all sets the play off to a disappointing start, lacking the energy to really get it on its feet. The ensemble rehearsal scenes for the crisis point of his absurd military operation are almost unbearable in their failure to produce any comedy.
The era of the piece is somewhat unplaceable and the characters’ costumes ridiculous. Certainly the humour is aimed at an older-than-student generation; you can tell the age of the playwright. All in all, when the comic moments shine through, or character revelations truly surprise, Arrivals and Departures can endear itself to its audience.
The Ayckbourn Ensemble continues to tour until mid-March, visiting the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (24 Feb – 1 March), Theatre Royal, Bath (3 – 8 March) and Watford Palace Theatre (10 – 15 March).
This review was originally written for The Student Journals.