Way Upstream: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Way Upstream (Unrecorded production programme note)
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.
The Author Talks To The Director (National Theatre 1982 production programme note)
Author: I suppose we're probably one of the longest established author/director partnerships in existence. Which is gratifying - if a little frightening. This will be - what - the 25th play of mine we've done together. Endless opportunities for disagreements - yet in all honesty I think it would be true to say that we're closer today than we have ever been. Could you tell me, first, what do you think it was that attracted you and continues, 25 years later, to attract you to my work?
Director: Well, of course, sheer admiration. The way you manage, against all odds, continually to take me by surprise. That's the first thing. I suppose too I enjoy our partnership because of the freedom I now feel I have. To make what is perhaps a larger and more substantial contribution to your plays, as a director, than I feel I possibly could with someone else's work. Or perhaps would need to.
Author: In what way larger?
Director: That's difficult to define.
Author: Do you mean, as I hope you mean, that my plays present you with such vast and varied scope for interpretation?
Director: Partly that. Partly. And partly, I suppose, I mean that I can take a larger role in the original creative process, than perhaps I would normally.
Author: Really, I wasn't aware that was the case.
Director: No. I think it does tend to go unnoticed. And rightly so. In an ideal director / writer partnership like ours, it is right and proper, that you, as dramatist should be credited with the lion's share of any creative achievement. Quite rightly, the director and the whole creative team that serve you are very much considered second fiddles. And, as I say, rightly so. Probably.
Author: I don't think I've ever denied your contribution, have I?
Director: Heavens, no. Of course you haven't. You would never do that. Not consciously. And, if you haven't acknowledged it either that's also completely understandable. As someone once said, it's enough that a writer should write about the world. We can hardly expect him to acknowledge its existence as well. I don't know who said that but I feel it's very apt.
Author: Probably a writer. Could you give me specific examples of where perhaps you feel that your own contribution has been undervalued. If that's the word.
Director: Well - I suppose I smile a little when I hear you dubbed with such phrases as "the master of technical wizardry" and so forth. As I'm sure anyone looking at the initial version of one of your plays when it first lands on my desk, would smile. Anyone would smile.
Author: I can't say I've ever smiled. Turning if I may to you, now. As a director, of course, you're unique in the sense that you've based your whole career - and this makes me very proud in a way - on the work of one dramatist. This must be fairly unusual, mustn't it, for a director?
Director: It is. It is. And, of course, it's a two-edged weapon. A director is, to some extent, limited by his author. It's useless to speculate but had we not met, who knows...
Author: Yes, but as was once said - if you choose to use someone as a windbreak in winter you really can't object to being in their shadow when the sun shines. I don't know who said that but -
Director: Probably a director. (Laughing).
Author: (Laughing) Probably. Still, I suppose you wouldn't deny that, if it weren't for your association with my work, you probably wouldn't be working at the National Theatre today. (Laughing)
Directing: (Laughing) True. True. But then that could apply to both of us.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.