When stuck on a railway platform time drags, or appears to, and the mind tends to wander, reflecting on past meetings and remembering encounters at other train stations. This aspect of memory is the spark behind the staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play, his 77th, and given Ayckbourn’s abiding interest in the depiction of time and memory it has an intriguing framework.
Ez and Barry (Elizabeth Boag and Kim Wall) are at a London station. He is a Yorkshire traffic warden, the one person able to identify an armed and dangerous terrorist who is due to arrive on a train from Harrogate. She is a top special forces soldier assigned as his minder. She is uptight, emotionally scarred and would rather be elsewhere. Other special forces operatives appear, trying to blend in with assorted silly disguises.
Wall is blissfully funny. Delivering a performance with the manner, ease and physical thrust of a top music hall comic from a generation ago.
The structure of Arrivals and Departures has the encounter between Ez and Barry repeated, word for word. First her memories, or vivid mental snapshots as Ayckbourn calls them, are acted out within the encounter and in the second act we experience his. James Powell’s performance as the young Barry is exemplary, balanced almost perfectly with that of Wall.
This play will puzzle. One does wonder where it is going and why there is little tension - but the denouement and the pathway to it are amply rewarding.