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Saturday, 01 October 2011

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The more I reflect on this play, and the centrepiece of the allegory, the more I admire it.

For me, not knowing the play before we saw it yesterday, the penny didn't drop until shortly after Vince arrived - about a third of the "Way Upstream" - and so I've spent last night and today running back through the characters and plot and charting their allegorical "mappings". It's a beauty, imho.

It is so much more difficult to devise a simple allegory than a complex one *that works* in the two dimensions it sets out to reflect. So Ayckbourn sets a higher bar than Stoppard; Stoppard can hide a bit in the Byzantine riddles of not two but sometimes many dimensions of metaphor and allegory, and it sounds very clever and highbrow - which it is.

But to pull off a simple, clean isomorphism is more a mark of genius. (Kurt Godel did it with logic and numbers, probably the finest example in the history of isomorphisms, which revealed the relationship between the material and immaterial worlds).

Keep It Simple Genius doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Keep It Simple Stupid, but you know what I mean.

And as we head rapidly towards "Armageddon Bridge", waiting for a European "Vince" to step out of the undergrowth (or you might consider he's already on board), simple pertinence is a blunt but most effective instrument of artistic terror. I left the theatre feeling quite sick.

SoD

First of all, Lawrence, I'm glad you found the play so stimulating. I take your point about Stoppard's "Byzantine riddles" because, indeed, his plays are rarely single-minded as he weaves multiple themes through his texts. And you are right that in this play Ayckbourn abjures multiplicity and simply rams home his main theme that apparently strong men armed with Nietzschean will-power are a menace.

I had to look up 'isomorphism' (and I confess that I got no further than the first paragraph of Wiki!) but I see what you mean, that Vince stands for other entities.

What intrigues me is the ending. Were the 'ordinary people' in the form of Daniel and Emma actually dead at the end after their fateful passage under the Armageddon Bridge, and were now lost souls seeking heaven; or were they alive and thus a tiny symbol of hope? I think the former but I'm not sure.

Mostly dead.

But I think his point is that some of the ordinary people, the Lower Middle Classes, who only ever use the most minimal of force to survive, use that minimal force, and do survive. And those few survivors get to live their dreams, long after the other players are gone.

And I like the way that the director impresses on us the beauty and importance of those people, and the joy of their survival, freedom and dreams: by using the most impactful on stage device you can use - the human form. This is one great example of the use of nudity that is not gratuitous; rather, it is as near to perfect you can get for the metaphor.

All the other characters, who bullied and terrorized their way to the top of your overall impression of the play, were, at the last moment, quite rightly, confined to second place - as they are in history. The ordinary folks are left ascendant in your post-play consciousness, after all.

So, imho, it is a cautionary tale, but a hopeful one.

SoD

Hmmmn! First of all, Lawrence, thanks for the link back to that old post and the marvellous comments thread. I really do miss 'Larry Teabag', 'Ill-man', 'N.I.B.', Hilary Wade and all the others who used to liven up this blog. (I wonder, now that he's married and a father, if Larry votes Tory yet?)

As to Ayckbourn's ending, you are obviously more optimistic than me - but that might be an age thing!

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