It would be fair to say that Derby Playhouse pushes the boat out for its latest production, with a set boasting a motorised riverboat floating on 30 tonnes of water!
From the pen of the nation's most performed playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, Way Upstream is a bittersweet yet highly amusing tale of two married suburban couples of a 12-day boating holiday.
Things get off to a bad start for pompous and bullish factory owner Keith, played by Laurence Kennedy and his stroppy wife June (Tilly Blackwood), when they find themselves on a much-less luxurious boat than the one they had hired.
Keith's business partner Alistair (Paul Kemp) and passive wife Emma (Fenella Woolgar) are happy to make the best of it, until Keith's bossy ways as the self-appointed skipper begin to grate more than usual.
Enter sexy Vince, played by Owen Oakeshott, who saves the boat from grounding and apparently the holiday from sinking without trace. But is he as genuine as he seems? And where does his seemingly nice friend Fleur (Beverley Longhurst) fit into the picture?
Throughout all this, under the direction of Timothy Sheader and all staged on designer Andy Miller's ingenious moving set, Ayckbourn provides his now traditional insight into middle-class marriage, suburban boredom and the failings in all of us to communicate effectively with each other.
The result rocks between hilarious and heartbreaking as the writer toys with whether or not each couple's relationship will sink or swim. Performances from all the actors are excellent, but Kennedy stands out as Keith, reaching levels of boorishness which would grate on a saint's nerves, while retaining the tiniest sense of sympathy. Keith is a man who got on with things while others dithered, and didn't know when to stop. Superb characterisation.
And even at three hours, including interval, with just one set, there's no room for boredom. The story is interesting, dialogue excellent and production values high. If this is a sign of things to come at the newly and extensively refurbished Playhouse, the theatre should stay afloat for years to come.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at The Derby Playhouse)