Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes on Way Upstream were written by Alan Ayckbourn following an enquiry about his thoughts on the play in 1988.

What is Way Upstream?

IThere are dozens of ways Way Upstream might be interpreted, a number of events historical and contemporary with which it might be paralleled. As the author, I am reluctant to say - yes, this about Thatcherism in Britain or even Hitler's rise to power in Germany.

People have found in it (amongst other things) a plea for support for the new Social Democratic Party, for the British Liberal Party, an onslaught on the middle-class - someone even pointed out that Alistair and Emma are the same initial letters as Adam and Eve so maybe the whole thing is a religious analogy!

What the play is, certainly, is a statement in support of moderation. Vince and Fleur (deliberately) are neither Left Wing nor Right Wing. Too easy, that. They are neither and both. They feed on lethargy and indifference; on apathy and ignorance. They are extremists and opportunists. Possibly even the evil in ourselves, who knows. When we don't believe in anything - something will soon present itself.

The end of the play is the moment when Alistair decides, at last, to act. He could stay with Emma in their new found garden of Eden, but instead they resolve to go back and fight for the reasonable, for the middle ground.

The personal level (i.e between Emma and Alistair) is very important. Alistair's public persona, i.e the one he uses to face the world and other people, is so faded and uncertain that it has affected his private life. He has lost his own self respect and thus, increasingly, the respect of his wife. She, in turn, is lost as a result of this.

Emma's progression through the play is quite interesting. To start with, she sees herself as simply an extension of Alistair. A placid "wife". Later, as things get desperate, she becomes his equal ally and, temporarily, she even assumes captaincy of the ship itself. In the end they remain equal partners. The marriage is saved - though it's also transformed into a new working relationship.

A sort of history of woman in the 20th century, if you like. And of man's changing attitude to woman.


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