Way Upstream: Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes offers a glimpse at some rarely known facts regarding the writing of Alan Ayckbourn's plays with material drawn from the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York and the playwright's personal archive. Some of the items relating to the play held in archive can also be found on the Archive page.
  • For most of his professional playwriting career until 1986, Alan Ayckbourn was in the habit of writing his plays to the latest possible deadline (normally the day before rehearsals began). In the case of Way Upstream, Alan Ayckbourn only began writing the play less than six weeks before the play was due to premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, which meant the designer - Edward Lipscomb - only discovered the true extent of the challenge facing him just four weeks before the play opened!
  • The lateness of Alan Ayckbourn's writing schedule at this time frequently meant that only the title would be available for pre-publicity, often with little or no description of what the play was actually going to be about. In the case of Way Upstream, the 1981 summer brochure was printed with the following copy: "At the time of going to press all we have is the title and a brief description that the play is a tale of mutiny and piracy set aboard a cabin cruiser on a sleepy English river, but rest assured that the script will arrive in time for rehearsals, so don’t miss the opportunity of being among the first audience ever to see this new play from Alan Ayckbourn."
  • In the earliest hand-written notes known to exist for Way Upstream - and held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University of York - Alistair is referred to as Adam and Emma as Edie. Given the metaphors within the play, perhaps Alan was wary of being too obvious with his reference to Adam and Eve, hence the use of the more oblique Alistair and Emma which still retains the initials (see Archive).
  • Way Upstream also begins Alan's habit of having evil character's names beginning with the letter 'V'. He himself has noted that the majority of his most obviously evil or morally reprehensible characters share this attribute: Vince in Way Upstream; Vic in Man Of The Moment; Valder / Valda in A Word From Our Sponsor; Val in Sugar Daddies.
  • One of the main features in the second act is a rain-storm. In the original production, the storm was achieved through a shower head above the stage (for Alan's 2003 revival, a professional water designer was hired to create a stunningly realistic stage-wide storm). Unfortunately the original staging had a slight issue as after the storm finished, the shower head was prone to noticeably drip water. The solution - as with so many of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's finest staging solutions - came from the Master Carpenter Frank Matthews, who fixed a cup beneath the shower head, which with the aid of string could be made to move underneath the head following the storm and eliminate the dripping!
  • During Alan Ayckbourn's 2003 revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the climatic fight between Vince and Alistair had an unfortunate outcome one evening. Matthew Cottle, playing Alistair, actually connected with the forehead of Stephen Beckett, playing Vince, with the tin of baked beans. Despite Stephen bleeding profusely, Stephen was able to make his taunting appearance in the final moments of the play prior to the boat going under Armageddon Bridge, before the stage management rushed him off to Scarborough Hospital for attention and stitches!
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.