Way Upstream: London Premiere Reviews

Way Upstream opened in the West End in 1982. This page presents extracts from a selection of the major reviews of the London premiere of the play. It is worth noting that the reviews came in the wake of massive publicity about the show's problems (including flooding the National Theatre) and its cost. Many of the critics seem more interested in these issues - and taking pot shots at the playwright - rather than the play itself and this is often reflected in reactions to the play (see History for more details of the play's history).

Daily Mail (by Jack Tinker)
"What he's [Ayckbourn] showing, in the starkest terms, is the dark and brutal side of human nature, which has always lain hidden, just below the surface of his finer comedies. Significantly - and obviously everybody connected with this enterprise is convinced of its significance - this is not billed as a comedy. And we should have been warned from the outset." *

Daily Telegraph (by John Barber)
"The play reaches a surprise conclusion but not before the light entertainer in Ayckbourn has once again kept faith with the serious dramatist he seemed to have forgotten. Just as one was beginning to tire of the slick superficiality of recent comedies, he returns to the deeper strain of his best work. He achieves what may yet prove to be one of the best plays of an astonishing career."

Financial Times (by Michael Coveney)
"His [Ayckbourn] best plays are very funny and very dark. They are all distinguished by the playwright's perfect pitch when it comes to small talk among the suburbanites. He seems to have an unerring ear. But it seems to me he also has ideas above his station…. The evening is not really worth all the trouble. Nor is it very funny."

The Guardian (by Michael Billington)
"The play is not without enjoyment and pleasure particularly in its depiction of the way boats often bring out the authoritarian tendencies…. The result is strange, quirky and slightly out of Ayckbourn's natural character."

New Statesman (by Benedict Nightingale)
"I don't think the play altogether works, either on a personal level or a supra-personal level… And yet, it's surely inspiring to find our leading comic dramatist insisting on setting improbable new challenges for himself."

Punch (by Sheridan Morley)
"Another Scarborough wreck has been hauled south and the sooner it gets a decent burial at sea the better."

The Spectator (by Mark Amory)
"This is a striking production of Ayckbourn's most interesting play in years."

The Stage (by Peter Hepple)
"At times the author achieves what he has never accomplished before - suspense and acute disturbance. A pointer for the future, possibly."

Sunday Telegraph
Way Upstream must also have been extremely costly. But in the case of a work so remarkable, the extravagance is justified."

The Times (by Irving Wardle)
"The play presents the suicidal spectacle of a playwright driving past the limit of his own talent and coming to a sticky end."

Times Literary Supplement (by Ronald Hayman)
"A play which contains some good ideas, some extremely funny dialogue, some shrewd observation, and some embarrassingly unbelievable moments."

* Although it was common for the commercial West End to label Alan Ayckbourn's plays as 'comedies', the National Theatre was only following the playwright's preference as he had stopped labelling his plays as 'comedies' since the mid 1970s for their world premieres in Scarborough. London - particularly the West End - was just slow to follow on.

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.