Way Upstream: Frequently Asked Questions

Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alan Ayckbourn's Way Upstream.

Does Way Upstream have to be set on actual water?
Ideally, it does. The play was conceived as being set on water and there is no doubt that the play works best when presented this way. It emphasises the extraordinary theatrical element of the play to enter an auditorium and see a water-filled stage with a cabin-cruiser, upon which rain will also fall. That being said, the play can be done without water and there have been some ingenious solutions in the past to achieve this and give the impression of a moving boat; if nothing else the boat should be capable of movement with or without water.

Can it be staged on a river on an actual boat?
There's no reason why not and this has taken place on several occasions. Ironically though, it does reduce the play's effectiveness and reduces it theatricalness. Part of the surprise and joy of Way Upstream is seeing a boat floating on a 'canal' within an actual theatre; it's not what one generally expects upon entering a theatre! Setting it upon an actual river / canal reduces that impact as the element of surprise (and how did they achieve that?) is vastly reduced.

How deep should the water be?
This will vary by production and the technical requirements of the venue. Alan Ayckbourn says the original production took place in 10 inches of water - which would probably be the bare minimum to hide the mechanics to move the boat. But the depth will largely vary depending on how the movement of the boat is achieved. When Alan Ayckbourn revived it in Scarborough in 2003, there were different depths in the tank so when Vince and Alistair fight in the water, they gave the illusion they were standing up to their chest in water; they actually leapt in and went onto their knees for the fight, with the water in that part of the tank about four feet in depth but being far more shallow elsewhere.

Is Way Upstream, as the critic Robin Thornber contended, a political piece?
Absolutely not. Alan is fervently anti-political in his writing and Way Upstream would arguably never have been interpreted in such a way had it not had the misfortune of being produced at a time synchronous with the formation and rise of the Social Democratic Party and the introduction of third party politics into the British political system. However, this was not something Alan was remotely concerned with and believes it to be a serious mis-reading of the play; Way Upstream does deal with extreme characters and how two normal, middle-of-the-road people rise up to confront it, but Alan was not advocating a political party, but just writing about the general state of the country which he felt was very extreme at the time with 'normal' people caught in the middle. Robin Thornber's comments can only be viewed as his own political beliefs reflected, wrongly, onto a play that does not support the interpretation to any serious level.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.