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Arrivals and Departures

It’s been ages since I’ve been to the theatre. Partly that’s been because I’ve been too busy, and partly because there hasn’t been much on lately that really interests me. The theatre has put up its prices quite a bit recently, and that’s also put me off. But I was idly looking at the theatre website earlier this week, and noticed to my surprise that there was an Alan Ayckbourn on, one that I hadn’t seen before. I wondered how I’d missed the fact it was being performed – I am on the mailing list and always check out what plays are coming up. Anyway, I hurriedly phoned up the box office to get a ticket to the Saturday matinee.

It turned out that the lack of publicity was because it wasn’t being shown on the main stage, but at the Coach House Theatre, a much smaller (and less expensive) associated venue that is run by the resident amateur company, but also hosts productions from smaller professional outfits. The main theatre acts as a booking office for the Coach House, and publicises its productions on their website, but they don’t make it into the printed brochure.

Arrivals and Departures is set on a railway platform, during chaotic, and indeed somewhat farcical, anti-terrorist operation run by a mad, pompous major. The two main characters are Barry, a garrulous Yorkshire traffic warden who may be able to identify the suspect, and Ez a taciturn female soldier who is there to babysit him during the operation.

As these two strangers sit and make small talk whilst waiting for the operation to commence, we see flashbacks of their past which round out their characters. In the first half, we see Ez’s memories and realise why she is so taciturn and doesn’t want to be touched. The second half is then an almost exact mirror-image of the first – to the extent that all the entrances and exits are on the opposite side of the stage, and people shake hands with their left hand, not their right. This time we see Barry’s backstory, and realise there’s a lot more to him than we first thought.

I thought it was very cleverly done. Of course, being an Ayckbourn, it was very funny in places, but with a lot of tragedy mixed into it alongside his trademark observations on unhappy marriages and some pointed observations about “entitlement”.

It was a very enjoyable way of spending a Saturday afternoon, and I shall have to make a point of monitoring the theatre website in future, rather than relying on the printed publicity, as otherwise I might miss out.