Officialdom, patriarchy, state security, greed, rape, infidelity, betrayal, snobbery – you name it and in Alan Ayckbourn’s Arrivals and Departures the playwright takes aim at all the negative aspects of today’s society but also shining a light on friendship and self-affirmation. To paraphrase guileless protagonist Barry: if you think the best of people, you might be disappointed, but if you think the worst, you’ll be miserable.
Using two central characters in fractured Ez and cheery Barry – who are thrown together on a disused railway platform as part of a security operation – the drama unfolds in a series of flashbacks as we discover why the unlikely duo are the characters they are.
Using a traverse stage as the railway platform (which lends the play its title in one sense) the Next Stage Theatre Company’s ensemble cast appeared as distraught parents, bickering families, bungling security personnel and as Ez and Barry’s younger selves.
An excellent and slightly formidable Francesca McBride as downcast soldier Ez dominated the setting with her hard to like glum persona which slowly melts as chatty Barry begins to lighten her mood. Andrew Ellison as the cheery Yorkshireman was exceptional value in the night and day contrast of the two characters.
Supported by the wonderfully pompous Major Quentin Sexton (Brian Hudd) who set up the comically incompetent security scenario and aided by a brilliant Miranda Webb as the young Ez (Esme) and Mike Stevens as wet-behind-the-ears as young Barry the drama fell into two halves that mirrored each other. The first being Ez’s back story and the second act the life of Barry. Complicating matters but adding the laughs were the cast of military bods pretending to be normal people at the station. Tiana James and Dave Shaw as students, Christine Saunders as a non-English speaking tourist, and Alistair J Davey as the comically unsuspecting suspect to name but a few.
There were tantalising glimpses of Ez’s and Barry’s past very English lives which director Ann Ellison fleshed out in the flashbacks or mini scenes set outside schools, inside hospitals and even a motorway service station – achieved with a dip in lighting. Costumes (Christine Anderson) also helped to paint pictures of those in the lives of Barry and Ez – something that can be taken for granted – but the right school uniform, the period suit or mumsy dress quickly establishes visually a character who may only appear for a few moments.
The strength of the production was the acting which was worthy of any stage. Brian Fisher, Kay Francksen, Alex Hawkins and Ellie Turner completed an exceptional cast in Ayckbourn’s dark satire that perhaps took aim at too many targets when the life stories of Ez and Barry would have sufficed. But then Ayckbourn’s restlessness as a creative writer would never be satisfied with the conventional. Perhaps the railway platform could have done with more litter, leaves and the odd suitcase but the simple layout kept the comings and goings and indeed the arrivals and departures going at a pace that kept the audience’s attention throughout in this exceptional production.
The play runs to January 29th, 2022.
Details and tickets at http://www.missiontheatre.co.uk/
Harry Mottram is the news editor of Bath Voice monthly magazine covers news, views, reviews, previews and features as well as what’s on in Bath and events for residents in Bear Flat, Widcombe and Oldfield Park and the wider Bath area. Delivered door to door in south Bath and available in shops and supermarkets. See the Facebook site for details.
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