Review: Arrivals & Departures is classic Ayckbourn

Arrivals & Departures, part of the Alan Ayckbourn Ensemble, Warwick Arts Centre, until Saturday February 15, box office 024 7652 4524
Sir Alan Ayckbourn.Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

The story of an hilariously botched security operation at a railway station is the background to Alan Ayckbourn’s clever portrayal of the lead characters’ tragic lives.

Ayckbourn has been writing plays for 55 years but has lost none of his craft. This play is one of three being staged as part of the Ayckbourn Ensemble at the arts centre this week.

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The action starts with a pompous major barking out instructions to the participants in a plan to trap a terrorist as he steps off a train at King’s Cross. But the main focus is on two people drawn into this badly organised scheme.

Barry is a cheery Harrogate traffic warden, flown south in a helicopter to identify the suspect, while Ez is a moody woman soldier who has been assigned to help him through it. The major orders them to merge together so they appear less conspicuous but, despite Barry’s efforts, this proves impossible.

Their memories overtake them while they wait and we learn about the tragedy in their lives. In the first act we learn that Ez’s reputation is tarnished by an incident with her boyfriend and she shuns physical contact.

The second act is nearly an exact mirror of the first with the security operation action repeated but switched from right to left so that we can hear Barry’s unfortunate life story.

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Actor Kim Wall stole the show with his comic portrayal of Barry, making the most of the comic potential of Yorkshire folk. The audience, who were mostly of a generation to remember the TV programme Last of the Summer Wine at its peak, loved it. Even when he was silent, his mannerisms were funny. The laughs increased as he mimicked Eric Morecambe’s style of walk and twiddle of his specs,

Other strong performances came from: the major, Quentin, played by Pete Halpin; Ez (Rachel Caffrey); and two wonderful cameos by Barry’s in-laws (Russell Dixon and Sarah Stanley),

This tragi-comedy is classic Ayckbourn.

Peter Gawthorpe