Given the benefit of hindsight, John Godber would doubtless have chosen a better historical moment to share with us his aviophobia in his latest play, Departures.
Not that the possibility of hijack was one of the symptoms that hitherto brought it on. According to the programme - which is also the source of that posh word for the dread of flying - it's the simple defying of gravity, plus the fact that airports are called "terminals", that makes the departure lounge "a cauldron of anxiety". Mercifully, though, anxiety is the context rather than the meat of the play.
Jim is the anxious party. He and his business partner Steve produce corporate videos for an international market, and what with this and a wife, Claire, who is addicted to holidays abroad, Jim spends much of his life delayed in airports, supping his miniature brandies to steady himself. Steve is wedded only to Manchester United and keeps his women at the other end of a mobile phone call. But when the partners start taking their young assistant Zoe on their trips abroad, Jim's state of anxiety develops into emotional meltdown, and after an overnight delay spent in the airport Novotel, his unsuspected 20-year itch becomes runaway fantasy.
Godber aficionados will readily recognise the first half of this play, with its confident one-liners and sketch-like episodic structure. After the interval, though, the emotional intensity is ratcheted upwards and the dialogue becomes bleak and spiky, the unsaid frequently more eloquent than the said.
In superbly crafted and measured performances, Iain Rogerson as Jim and Robert Angell as Steve have one remarkable sequence in which the single word "Man" is bounced back and forth with changes in intonation which leave the interstices speaking volumes. If this is Godber writing at his most accomplished, he is also directing at his most confident, knowing precisely how far he can trust his audience.
Sherry Baines and Liz Carney fill six roles, the former sharing a harrowing scene of desolate fury as the cast-off wife Claire and also enjoying a cameo as a classy Czech whore, the latter brisk as Zoe whose commoditised attitude to sex bamboozles Jim, but less assured as Jim and Claire's lovestruck daughter.
If you have heard a murmur that Godber is currently attempting to be too prolific, forget it - Departures displays him at the height of his powers.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at Wakefield's Theatre Royal and Opera House
Departures, a Hull Truck production, continues on tour until 2 February 2002.