Review: Way Upstream at Chichester Festival Theatre

(Left to right) Sarah Parish as June, Jill Halfpenny as Emma, Jason Hughes as Alistair and Peter Forbes as Keith. Picture: Allan Hutchings
(Left to right) Sarah Parish as June, Jill Halfpenny as Emma, Jason Hughes as Alistair and Peter Forbes as Keith. Picture: Allan Hutchings
As You Like It, with Jessica Hayles centre. Picture by Keith Pattison

How do you like it? Gender and politics in Shakespeare at the New Theatre Royal

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When the Festival Theatre’s 2015 season was announced, the opening show caused eyebrows to raise.

The newly renovated theatre was to be flooded with 69,000 litres of water to stage Way Upstream, a play by Alan Ayckbourn which details the boat trip of two businessmen and their wives.

How would they achieve it? Well, the answer is, simply put, in style. The set was more than a backdrop, it was a spectacle – there were rounds of applause as the boat moved on the water and rain drenched the cast in the second half.

But it is testament to the actors that the play’s content was never upstaged by the packaging.

Sarah Parish was perfectly cast as the hen-pecking wife of egomaniac Keith, and their marital spats were counterbalanced by the nervous Emma and (a)pathetic husband Alistair.

But if you arrive expecting a night of pure comedy, you will be in for a shock.

The first act was tonally in the vein of Only Fools and Horses – slapstick comedy and innuendo was aplenty.

But with the arrival of the anarchic Vince and his female counterpart Fleur, the strained society onboard ship turns into the aquatic equvialent of Lord of the Flies.

The change in tone was fast, and the sheer absurdity hard to swallow at points, but go with the flow – the character arcs are fascinating to watch. You’ll be surprised by who sinks and who swims in the end. Until May 16.