Theatre review: Alan Ayckbourn’s Arrivals and Departures in Scarborough

Elizabeth Boag and Kim Wall in Arrivals and Departures
Elizabeth Boag and Kim Wall in Arrivals and Departures

This is a deeply excoriating play for the unwary traveller.

It transforms an ordinary railway journey into an emotional rollercoaster in which brief encounters show love’s arrivals and departures.

This seemingly low key tale with its low key monochrome setting of just three cold, unforgiving four-seat metallic benches gathers an intensity of heat that explodes into some of the most emotionally-charged moments I can recall at this theatre for a long time. These sparks were not predictable in the earlier scenes, which more resembled a farce revolving around a luggage case and a whistle.

The two halves of the play close together as a circle, forming a symmetry that defied initial preconceptions.

There’s the usual Ayckbournian themes of communication, or lack of it, and dysfunctional relationships but this drills deeper. And for anyone who missed the point, the very final scene with all exeunt apart from two, lonely, pink-clad little girls reinforces the despair and sadness of how personal disengagement can easily and devastatingly become corrosive.

Masked by the wit and jokes about Stevenage, there are scalpel-sharp twists about relationship disintegration, and principally about the daughter-father bond.

The audience are passengers at a station that starts with Quentin (Terence Booth), the voice of the establishment – and irrelevance. He is a platform apart from the tortured, neutralised soul of Ez, played uncompromisingly by Elizabeth Boag. You have to be patient and let the jigsaw glide naturally into place.

And it’s the character of Barry (Kim Wall) the buffoon, OTT Tyke who becomes the messenger of high, serious, real drama.

It is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on various dates until October 5.

Review by Ed Asquith