Way Upstream: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play Way Upstream by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

Administrator's Note: It is common for Way Upstream to be considered as a Political play, reflecting on the state of politics in the UK during the 1980s. Whilst personal interpretation of any play is valid, it is important to note that Alan Ayckbourn did not write a political play nor has he ever referred to Way Upstream as a 'Political' play. It was written and intended as an allegory on good and evil which touches upon the politics of leadership - but not party politics. Any author inferring the play is Political is making a personal interpretation that the author himself does not believe is either supported and certainly wasn't intended.

"Way Upstream is a parable partly about political extremism and partly about humanity's search for its lost innocence."
(Paul Allen, Royal & Derngate's Ayckbourn At 70 souvenir programme)

"Rather than an analysis of [the political] right and left, therefore, Way Upstream is an allegory dealing with good and evil, a subject glancingly and satirically referred to in Suburban Strains (the older teacher, Miss Dent, says she knows evil when she sees it)."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide To Alan Ayckbourn's Plays, 2004, Faber)

"Two established dramatists did, however, end the decade with their reputations greatly enhanced: Alan Ayckbourn and David Hare. For all their obvious differences, what unites them is their tireless dedication to the idea of theatre and their fierce moral concern with the state of the nation. Ayckbourn began the decade with Way Upstream and a group of characters drifting aboard a cabin-cruiser towards Armageddon Bridge. He went on to tackle sanctioned greed in A Small Family Business, social disintegration and the technological nightmare in Henceforward..., the cult of the criminal in Man Of The Moment. Ayckbourn's genius is to make us laugh while exposing the moral bankruptcy of the age."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian, 28 December 1989)

"Clearly the cabin-cruiser and its crew are a metaphor for modern England. Vince represents fascism, Fleur aristocratic decadence, Keith capitalist arrogance, June sensuous passivity and Alistair and Emma all the quiet, moderate, reasonable people whose voices scarcely ever get heard. Ayckbourn himself does nothing to dispel this interpretation with talk of 'the final collapse of civilisation as we know it' and Alistair himself conceding that they will have to make the hazardous journey back through enemy territory even though it is filled with unreasonable people"
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"The play [
Way Upstream] uses the boat as a metaphor for an early-80s England in which the voices of moderation and reason were being drowned out by an ugly extremism."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian, 25 May 2012)

"Vince and Fleur are portraits of a different kind. Vince wants his own way and is determined to seize the power to realise it, using any manipulative means whatsoever. Fleur is an accomplice rich enough to sidestep social norms and incites. Both abuse hospitality, good nature and compromise to serve their own ends. Ayckbourn introduces them into a situation ripe for mutiny with its own implicit power vacuum."
(Michael Holt: Alan Ayckbourn, 1999, Northcote House)

"Before turning back, just beyond Armageddon, at the conclusion of the play, the contemporary Adam and Eve [Alistair and Emma] discover not the gone-to-seed garden of the other plays but a new Eden at the river's source. They shed their clothes to be cleansed in the waters of the Orb, fulfilling at last Alistair's dream of renewal that he could never express to Emma, hardly hope to share with her. No longer fearful of the water, Emma knows that Alistair will keep her afloat, safe from harm. Having earlier rejected Fleur's advances, Alistair, now captain of his destiny, can embrace Emma, liberated from her fears, as his first mate his only mate."
(Albert E Kalson: Laughter In The Dark, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

Way Upstream begins in comedy and it ends in allegory and in it Alan Ayckbourn - who has for some time been trying to darken and, I suppose, deepen, his comedy - takes a step further than I think he’s ever taken before. He tries, I think, to introduce into it evil, human evil, in the person of Vince and has him do some fairly horrible things. And he tries to introduce us to, I think, a political evil. Towards the end it becomes evident that this ship is something of a ship of state. And on board are representatives of capital - perhaps fascism - the young man who takes it over and a decadent aristocrat is picked up and they proceed to oppress one way or another the moderates. And the moderates seem to be beaten - they are not beaten - but on the other side of Armageddon Bridge, a significant name in itself, the moderates take new heart and decide to come back. The meek it seems will inherit the earth or, as one of them puts it, we rational people must go back and reason with the others. And I suppose that’s supposed to be some kind of political message on behalf of the oppressed centre.”
(Benedict Nightingale, BBC Meridian, 14 October 1982)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.