Arrivals & Departures: History

Arrivals & Departures is Alan Ayckbourn's 77th play and premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 6 August 2013 in repertory with a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's play Time Of My Life.

Alan Ayckbourn was commissioned to write the play by the Stephen Joseph Theatre (SJT) in the summer of 2012 for the summer 2013 season. He began writing the play during August 2012 and it was finished during September - although it was not without its difficulties.
Behind The Scenes: The 2012 Factor
Alan's decision to write a play with such a large cast reflects his frustrations during the 2012 summer season at the SJT.
Initially, Alan had planned to revive
A Small Family Business - producing it in Scarborough for the first time - alongside a new play, Surprises, which featured 12 actors.
The plan was derailed by the SJT's financial situation and Alan was asked to reduce his company to six actors and revive
Absurd Person Singular instead with Surprises scaled down to a less ambitious piece; which arguably suffered from the change.
Although Alan agreed to this, he was then frustrated to see the financial stipulations did not appear to have been applied consistently by the SJT's Artistic Director throughout the season's other productions.
The play was commissioned with the intent it would share the same size cast as Alan's revival of Time Of My Life, which Arrivals & Departures would play in repertory with. However, he realised that he could not shoehorn his idea for the new play into such a relatively small cast and - not willing to compromise the play - wrote it with an expanded cast size of 11 adults and 2 children. The SJT agreed to the expanded company on the understanding he would write another piece for the four actors to financially justify them. This led him to write two new one act plays, Farcicals.

That Alan chose not to shoehorn Arrivals & Departures into a smaller company or abandon the idea altogether (even with a company of 11, there are still more than 30 different characters), may well reflect on his frustrating experiences the previous year when his new play Surprises had arguably suffered after he had to hugely scale down his original plans for the piece and that year's Ayckbourn revival.

To help fund a more ambitious (and expensive) production in 2013, the SJT launched the
Production Syndicate; a variety of publicly available experiences related to the production of the play with proceeds going towards the cost of staging of Arrivals & Departures.

Arrivals & Departures is set in King's Cross Station in London and is framed by a subplot centred on a military team's attempts to apprehend a terrorist at a train station. However, the main plot is actually centred on a military liaison Ez and a traffic warden from Harrogate called Barry whose stories are told through flashbacks. The play's title derives from the fact many of the scenes are set at various points of arrival and departure such as railway and bus stations and airports as well as the very obvious concerns regarding birth and death which permeate the piece.

Alan's need to continually innovate in his writing saw him pushing himself in a new direction with
Arrivals & Departures and it is his first play centred around memories; a theme which recurs in subsequent plays such as A Brief History Of Women and Roundelay. We learn about the lives of Ez and Barry through witnessing their memories - however the characters are unaware of the other's thoughts and, thus, do not ever understand each other as the audience does.

Like many of Alan's plays,
Arrivals & Departures also makes an audacious use of time. Act I opens with the arrival of Ez and, at the end of the act, the play appears to have reached a natural conclusion. But as Act II begins, we return to the introduction of Barry and gain his perspective of events and his life. The second act also extends beyond the original 'climax' and what appeared to be a relatively happy ending instead becomes a tragic conclusion.
Behind The Scenes: Production Syndicate
The world premiere production of
Arrivals & Departures was made possible by a fund-raising initiative called the Production Syndicate, which was supported by the following people.
Roy & Pat Ainger
Dave Bennet
Alexandra Bradley & Wanda Maciuszko
Linda & Brendan Connor
Charlie & Liz Cook
Ros & Alan Haigh
Mike Linham
Karyl Rey
Bernard Riley
Peter Nunan
Sarah Wareing
Don Andreason
Anonymous donor
Arrivals & Departures is also a rare example of the north and south definably - and intentionally - colliding. It is one of his few plays specifically set in London and one of the few to feature a character definably from Yorkshire in the shape of Barry from Harrogate. The only other play which notably features such a clash of cultures is RolePlay.

Arrivals & Departures
was officially announced by the SJT on 25 February 2013. Alan had issues with the promotion of the play as he felt it concentrated too heavily on the context of the play - the plot to capture the terrorist - rather than the stories of Ez and Barry which are the heart of the play. As a result, Alan felt much of the early publicity was promoting a play which did not reflect what audiences were actually going to see.

The play's world premiere was on 6 August 2013 at the SJT. The play was met with a five-star review from The Times within which the publication's lead theatre critic, Libby Purves, described it as Alan's 'new masterpiece: ambitious, inventive, mischievously funny but emotionally serious with a shocking, ironic and redemptive final twist.' The play was almost unanimously well-received with the consensus being this play once again showed Alan Ayckbourn innovating and moving into new territory as a playwright. At the end of 2013, it was also listed in The Guardian as one of the critic Michael Billington's top 10 shows of the year.

In 2014, the play toured the UK as part of the
Ayckbourn Ensemble; redirected by Alan Ayckbourn for the end-stage, it was performed in repertory with Time Of My Life and Farcicals. The Ayckbourn Ensemble then toured to the Brits Off Broadway festival at the 59E59 Theaters, New York, during June 2014, marking the fifth visit to the festival by Alan Ayckbourn with his home company; the trio of plays received overwhelmingly positive reviews from publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The production was also named as one of the top ten shows of 2014 by Time magazine.

Arrivals & Departures might also have become a film. On 1 March 2014, the acclaimed French film director Alain Resnais died; he had previously adapted three Ayckbourn plays with his final film, Aimer, Boire et Chanter, being an adaptation of the play Life Of Riley. The day after his death, his wife, Sabine Azéma, and producer, Jean-Louis Livi, announced he had begun work on his next film just prior to his death and, had he lived, his next film would have been Arrivées et Départs, an adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's Arrivals & Departures. The film-maker's notes held in archive indicate this would probably have been his most ambitious Ayckbourn adaptation yet with the memory scenes animated - possibly blurring in and out like real memories - and with the character of Ez aged up considerably to potentially allow Sabine Azéma to play the role. This would, presumably, have entailed considerable rewriting of the play and altered many of the dynamics. It was also intended the role of the army officer, Quentin, would have been gender-swapped.

Arrivals & Departures was released for production in 2016 to both professional and amateurs and was published by Faber in 2018 as part of the collection Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 6 and as an acting edition by Samuel French in 2019.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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