ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 11th October, 2013
Troubled soldier Ez is tasked with looking after Barry, a witness who will be able to identify a terror suspect when a train arrives. As they wait, Barry’s loquaciousness (particularly about the weather) tests Ez’s patience to the limit but gradually they form a mutual respect and understanding.
Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play is more than a brief encounter on the railways. The first act is intercut with flashbacks of Ez’s past. The second is a repeat of the first act although this time the flashbacks reveal Barry’s personal history. It’s a supremely effective device that maximises the impact of events when they reach both anticlimax and shocking denouement.
Elizabeth Boag is very strong as the cold and reserved Ez, who despite herself forms a kind of attachment to the wittering buffoon in her charge. Kim Wall dazzles as Barry, who first appears as a numpty from the North (he sports a baseball cap rather than the stereotypical flat variety) but is revealed to be a lovely bloke. Both are shown to be victims of unscrupulous people their paths have crossed.
Running the undercover operation is Quentin (a splendid Terence Booth) rehearsing his troops in scenes that show the soldiers’ amateurish dramatics in hilarious light. There is powerful support from the likes of John Branwell, Richard Stacey and Sarah Parks, and I particularly liked James Powell as the young Barry, embarking on married life and taking over his father-in-law’s business. Ben Porter again impresses with his versatility but really the entire ensemble merits praise for the seemingly effortless naturalism of their portrayals within a heightened and extraordinary situation. Even the farcical elements are played for truth and this is why it works like a well-oiled machine.
Ayckbourn’s script balances riotous humour with amusing character study as well as giving us some dramatic and very poignant moments, while keeping the element of surprise up its sleeve. It’s an entertaining, affecting piece, reminding us that we all have pasts of our own; we all go through life’s mill, but sometimes circumstances conspire to bring us together with a stranger and encounters, however brief or bizarre, can lead to a genuine connection.