Way Upstream at Chichester Festival Theatre

Sarah Parish (far right) in rehearsals for Way Upstream.
Sarah Parish (far right) in rehearsals for Way Upstream.
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After 16 years away from the stage, Sarah Parish is being thrown in at the deep end at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Her stage return involves a 22-foot boat and 69,000 litres of water in a show that is about as technically challenging (for the technicians at least) as they come.

Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream is at the venue from April 23-May 16 – and Sarah, who lives near Alresford in Hampshire, is delighted to clamber on board the boat which will float centre-stage.

‘You are getting a full-blown river on the stage,’ says Sarah whose many television appearances including leading roles in Cutting It, Mistresses and W1A. ‘They have got a real boat that has been designed to be lowered on a hydraulic arm, and the water will move backwards so it will look like the boat is moving.

And Sarah is quite accepting – it’s all going to upstage the actors for the first 10 minutes or so. ‘But that’s great. It’s a proper piece. We want people to go “Oh my god!” at first. We have got banks that move forwards. You want that impact.’

And then the characters will take over in Ayckbourn’s tale of four old friends looking forward to two weeks off on the beautiful River Orb.

You are getting a full-blown river on the stage. They have got a real boat that has been designed to be lowered on a hydraulic arm, and the water will move backwards so it will look like the boat is moving.

Sarah Parish

‘The two couples are very different, both going on holiday together when they really shouldn’t be in a confined space together. They don’t have that much in common, and being in a tiny space brings out the worst in everybody.’

One couple is shy but quite laid back. The other couple – of which Sarah is half – are very loud, very open and really quite ghastly: ‘It’s a great part for me to play. I really don’t get to play these big loud characters on screen. I often play quite a hard character, but they are not vulgar like this. My character is very unhappy with her lot in life. I think she feels she deserves an awful lot more. She is very selfish. She would have loved to have worked in show business, but it didn’t work out, and she has married this man that has not made her dreams come true.’

Sarah has made her name through her extensive screen credits: ‘But when I left drama school, theatre was all I ever did for six to seven years, and then at the age of 28-29, I started work in TV, and it just escalated from there. It’s very difficult to turn a TV job down to do theatre. TV pays very well, and the hours are good. I found myself doing TV job after TV job after TV job, and I thank my lucky stars for that.

‘It then got to the point where I lost my nerve a little bit for the stage. It was only recently that I thought I was ready to have another go.

‘My last time on stage was 1999. I did the Ben Elton play Popcorn in the West End. But I was brought up doing theatre. I was doing plays as a little girl. I was in youth theatre. I am used to it. I just had a huge break from it.’

So is there more to come?

‘[Chichester Festival Theatre] could become a regular theatre for me. But it pays so badly, theatre. If you get a couple of good TV jobs, then a theatre job is like a treat you give yourself because there is no money in it. I would like to do a play every year. It’s great for an actor to flex different muscles, but theatre is so time-consuming.’

Tickets on 01243 781312.

PHIL HEWITT