MY WONDERFUL DAY
by Alan Ayckbourn.
Stephen Joseph Theatre Tour to 27 March 2009.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 January at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
Previously reviewed at Scarborough in October 2009; see the Archive.
Making for a fascinating night.
Autumn’s Scarborough production of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play is now upended from its in-the-round staging for an end-stage tour in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. This is writer/director Ayckbourn’s quality-control mechanism to ensure the premiere productions of his new plays hit the road in the form he wants.
No-one expects a play called My Wonderful Day actually to be about a happy experience, and going-on-nine Winnie, parked for a day in the big house where mother’s a cleaner, writing a school essay with the same title, is in a no-win situation. But she finds much to wonder at in the mysterious world of adults.
Her heavily-pregnant mother dreams of returning to Martinique, callously self-obsessed businessman-householder Kevin shouts his way through conflict, bullying when not bedding light-headed employee Tiffany. Then there are weary underling Josh and Kevin’s irate wife Paula who, in another of Ayckbourn’s examples of technology’s traps, (a variant of the corrupted videos in 2004’s Private Fears in Public Places), has sabotaged his business promo-DVDs.
All these enter Winnie’s essay. Shifted between rooms – each looking anonymously alike in designer Roger Glossop’s set, which now adds walls to its minimalist neutrality – disregarded by everyone, she becomes the gauge of their inadequacies: Kevin’s brusque thoughtlessness, Tiffany’s desire for affection, Josh’s awkwardness, Paula’s bipolar switches between the sympathy of unfulfilled motherhood and the anger of assertion.
Seasoned Ayckbourn actors play their familiar roles consummately. The newcomers are the non-White actors. Petra Letang’s Laverne, clearly used to her employer not knowing her name, taking in her stride pregnancy, housework and encouraging her daughter to learn French, has the last laugh out of us as she sits in hospital learning what happens among the middle-classes.
But it’s Ayesha Antoine’s Winnie, the almost still, quite silent centre of the adults whirling problematically around her, who’s the focus of attention. Wondering looks, responses emerging from a child’s processing of information, the sense of semi-comprehension of all these strange people, are beautifully integrated in Antoine’s subtly-graded performance. Winnie may not have had a wonderful day, but Ayckbourn gives us, in his dark-toned way, a fascinating evening.
Kevin: Terence Booth.
Laverne: Petra Letang.
Winnie: Ayesha Antoine.
Tiffany: Ruth Gibson.
Josh: Paul Kemp.
Paula: Alexandra Mathie.
Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Roger Glossop.
Lighting: Mick Hughes.
Sound: Ben Vickers.
Costume: Jennie Boyer.
Assistant director: Mary Pappadima.