Review: Arrivals and Departures, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Arrivals & Departures.  Photo: Tony Bartholomew
Arrivals & Departures. Photo: Tony Bartholomew
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Here’s the problem: we can’t really judge Alan Ayckbourn by “normal” standards any more.

After 76 plays (this is 77) he is literally peerless. The only playwright more performed in the world is a four-centuries-long dead Brummie. And Ayckbourn is more adventurous with the stage than old Billy Shakespeare. No? Ayckbourn’s written dinner parties happening on different nights in different places – that happen on stage simultaneously and a hotel wardrobe that travels through time and space. The Bard never did that. It means that when Ayckbourn does something audacious, you almost expect more.

In Arrivals and Departures there is a classic Ayckbourn device and when you first see it, it is impressive and makes the audience marvel. As it continues, it is easy to become less impressed and it can feel almost a little bit like a gimmick. It is later, when you reflect on the notion, that you realise that actually, it really is quite brilliant. The Ayckbourn device in this instance is a memory coming to life and playing out in front of us.

Kim Wall is Barry. He’s a traffic warden who happens to have written a ticket for a known terrorist and so has been recruited by the police to identify said terrorist when he arrives at a London train station. Barry is a simple man, there’s nothing more to him than what you see...Except that’s not the case, but we only discover that in the second act when, waiting with his army-assigned protector, Barry’s memories play out. We’ve already seen his protector’s memories – Ez, played by Elizabeth Boag – in the first act.

It is a play, then, about making false judgements about the people we meet, about how we arrive at who we are via a map made from memories. It really is thrilling stuff from Ayckbourn the writer, and Ayckbourn the director has found a diamond of a performance from Kim Wall who appears to channel Eric Morecambe at times. Terence Booth as Quentin is, as usual, hilarious. See this, and don’t take the brilliance for granted.

To Oct 5.