To use superlatives to describe Arrivals and Departures would be an injustice to the subtlety, humour and emotionally wrenching unfolding of this delicately constructed play.
The plot centres on Barry, a seemingly cheery Yorkshire man, who is brought to a train terminal to identify a wanted terrorist, and Ez, who is a terse army officer, brought in to protect, or ‘babysit’, Barry. And so they wait, intermittently haunted by moments of arrivals and departures from their respective pasts.
Both actors are unrelentingly true to character and phenomenal at holding silences that reverberate around the stage. For Ez, her story is arguably predictable but that removes none of the suspense. Elizabeth Boag makes you wait to hear the words that confirm your suspicions. You both will the moment on and desperately hope it will never come; a microcosm of the overarching narrative of the play itself.
Kim Wall, who plays Barry, is truly outstanding. His nervous tics, farcical movements and understated moments of true heartbreak elicit laughter and pain in quick and disorientating succession.
As the second half begins, the mood and progression seems as harmless and inane as Barry has done so far, but it is deliberate. Ayckbourn masterfully creates calm, after the intensity of the first half, only to disarm you. The audience is as trusting as Barry, and inevitably lives out a similar fate.
The other actors are impeccable also; crisp and precise in both their comic timing and their delivery of Barry and Ez’s memories, creating what is ultimately the real backdrop of the play.
The set design is simple: some benches, an ever-present image of the large but handless clock and, most importantly, space. I have seen many plays with minimal set design where the actors seem to rattle around, and as you become conscious of that emptiness, the real world of the theatre creeps on stage. Not so in this production. People come in and out of the space, meaning your eyes are always flitting from one side of the stage to another. As the story progresses that emptiness fills with memories until, by the end, it feels positively crowded, although there is nothing actually there.
Ayckbourn tells so many stories, and demonstrates so many of the often unnoticed but important moments of life, that it is hard to unpick them all at once. I left feeling both broken and uplifted, sad but not melancholy, and most of all extremely glad that I had seen this wonderful play.