by Alan Ayckbourn
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 16 May 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Captioned 15 May.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 May.
Seven fine performances in a production catching every ripple in this comedy.
In his 1971 film Duel Stephen Spielberg shows a Middle American hounded by a truck-driver. Unseen, shielded by his metal monstrosity, this driver attempts, for no evident reason, to destroy the motorist and his vehicle.
A decade later, Alan Ayckbourn gave similar material an English expression, taking to the water to do so. Way Upstream starts in familiar 1970s Ayckbourn territory, as businessman Keith explodes ineffectually, fails to control the company he owns and unthinkingly bullies his wife June.
English middle-class ineffectuality is exemplified in his business partner Alistair, terminally indecisive and unable to be the positive person his lover Emma keeps urging him to be. These people, with their marital discontents and fading hopes, set out on a boating holiday. Multiple mishaps beckon.
What happens is more serious, and covered new ground for Ayckbourn. The trip acquires metaphorical implications (destination: Armageddon Bridge). And the boat is joined by Vince, and later his girlfriend Fleur, irresponsible daughter of nobility. Arriving in Keith’s absence, Vince is welcomed, especially by bored housewife June. His physical energy and positive manner override others’ doubts as he uses democratic procedures to become autocrat of the wheel.
A new authoritarianism invades sputtering English society, in a play written after Britain’s industrial Winter of Discontent, in the early Thatcher era. For Ayckbourn, the arrivals of Vince and Fleur precede his mid-80s drama Woman in Mind and its related ‘family’ play Invisible Friends, where an individual at first seems rescued from humdrum family life by ideal-seeming newcomers, until they become increasingly threatening. Way Upstream precedes too the social corruption of A Chorus of Disapproval and A Small Family Business.
Nadia Fall’s revival, apart from a fussy device to show time passing in a flickering stop-mo camera technique, perfectly captures Ayckbourn’s bitter attack. The final triumph doesn’t quite burst forth full-out but it’s a matter of detail, and might be an attempt to prevent the final symbolism becoming too blatant. Alongside fine performances, Ben Stones’ setting, with land that moves away from the boat and a dark forest through which the sun fitfully plays, substantially enhances the dramatic atmosphere.
Keith: Peter Forbes.
Emma: Jill Halfpenny.
Alistair: Jason Hughes.
June: Sarah Parish.
Mrs Hatfield: Nicola Sloane.
Vince: Jason Durr.
Fleur: Emily Laing.
Director: Nadia Fall.
Designer: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Vocal coach: Kay Welch.
Additional movement: Delphine Gaborit.
Fight directors: Rachel Bown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown.
Assistant director: Jake Smith.