by Alan Ayckbourn.

Stephen Joseph Theatre To 31 October 2009.
7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01723 370541.

Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 October at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough.

Proving the value of “Not in front of the children.”
A number of dramatists have used the idea of a character who says little or nothing as a measure of more voluble people’s behaviour. Alan Ayckbourn adds to the number with 9-year old Winnie, who says little, and most of that in French, as she mooches around the large house where her mother works as a cleaner.

Winnie’s thrown a sickie from school and mother’s set her to do her schoolwork – the title essay – and insists she talk in French, a weekly practice for the planned emigration to Martinique. Meanwhile, mother’s heavily pregnant and is taken to hospital when she goes into labour.

It leaves Winnie stranded among strangers, with their own, typically Ayckbournian problems. There’s an angry wife, a giggly mistress, a philandering boss and an ineffectual sidekick from work. All of them project their suppositions onto this mysterious, quiet girl – something summed-up in the inspired curtain-call.

It’s good to see the playwright opening up to ethnic diversity, though sobering that his first Black British adult should be a cleaner. But nothing can take away from Winnie, nor Ayesha Antoine’s remarkable performance, capturing not just the externals of a nine-year old but the timing of thought processes and responses behind them. And the mix of childhood innocence, wondering at the strange ways of adults, with self-interest. When it comes to sharing food, Winnie’s simple nod of unwillingness to part with sweets, followed by her arm reaching slowly towards the sleeping Josh’s sandwich, eyes alert to being seen, capture childhood’s cunning.

Antoine’s surrounded by seasoned Ayckbourn performers who realise what’s wanted of them. Perhaps it’s hardly surprising they inhabit the writer’s familiar territory, for young Winnie is the wildcard putting their behaviour in a new context.

Though Ayvckbourn’s written several plays for young people with a child protagonist, this isn’t one of them. The action’s often quite slow and quiet, sometimes given a gloomy concentration by Mick Hughes’ lighting, and the laughter depends on adult perceptions of behaviour, As does the final joke, where Winnie’s hospitalised mother reads her daughter’s essay and must wonder what she’s been missing.

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.

2009-11-02 13:20:07

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