Way Upstream (—)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for a programme for an unknown production.
I have been involved with three productions* of Way Upstream. The first, at Scarborough, with my own company was done small scale in-the-round and was probably the most successful all-round production. We managed water and rain and visually it was modest and pleasing. The production itself was carefully structured to ensure a slow development from light to shade as the influence of Vince and Fleur took over. It is a play where the balance of comedy and increasing menace must be carefully managed, of course. Too much of the former and all credibility and, consequently, the narrative line itself is destroyed. Too much of the latter and it becomes a heavy and rather too grim affair without any redeeming laughter.
Later in Houston, Texas, we presented what was essentially the same production only on a larger scale in a 700-seat 'thrust stage' auditorium. Though again with water, rain and a moving boat. I think the Americans found it rather disturbing.
Finally, the National Theatre production. This was beset with every technical difficulty under the sun. The play gained an unfortunate notoriety for being overambitious and unstageable; all untrue. Once the production was running, it was immensely successful and audiences reacted with a marvellous spontaneity - applauding and cheering and following the action often like a Saturday morning children's cinema audience.
They took it on the level of an adventure story which was fine by me. The play has a serious core and I hope the comments it has to make about human behaviour and the 'ordinary' man's reaction to abnormal pressure is valid, and, in the end, optimistic in its view of the human spirit. But the play also has to be great fun and credible.
* This article was written prior to Alan Ayckbourn's revival of Way Upstream at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2003.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.