My Wonderful Day: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Welcome To Winnie's World (Stephen Joseph Theatre 2009 production programme note)
I have been told over the years that I write well for women. If indeed I do - and since often it is women themselves who tell me so who, am I to deny it? - I am gratified. When pressed to explain precisely why this should be - am I, for instance in the habit of listening at keyholes or lurking unobserved behind powder room doors - I tend to explain it away with the fact that during the most formative years of my early childhood I was what they termed an “only” who spent a lot of the time in the company of adults. More significantly, after the early departure of my father in search of new sexual pastures, I was also the product of a single parent family, thus spending long hours in the company of my mother who, particularly after a glass of sherry, expressed her views emotionally and vociferously, on men in general and woman’s lot in particular. From an early age I was imbued with a strong pro female bias. To compound this, my mother also had a large circle of similar post-war career women who shared similar views to her own.
And so, from the age of four years onward, I sat in the corners of rooms, offices or on occasion hairdressers swinging my knobbly-kneed, matchstick legs protruding from my oversized short trousers, there at the feminine front line a tiny invisible war correspondent, silent and inwardly digesting.
Certainly it never occurred to my mother or her professional colleagues that I counted as male, let alone a man. A mere child, darling! But then I can’t remember that occurring to me either, for until my teens faced with all this, I remained tactically, tactfully neutral or ‘sexually Swiss’, as I chose to think of it.
Watching my own grandchildren today as they observe, absorb and imitate the behaviour of adults around them, their elders and so called betters, I am transported back half a century. For of course since time began, children crouched on the floors of caves, ears and eyes little recorders and video cameras.
We choose to talk or behave in front of children entirely at our own risk. By them shall our inadvertent utterances and actions later be judged, avoided or, God forbid, on occasions emulated
Come with me if you will, unsuspecting grown up, and sit quietly in the company of Winnie Barnstairs and observe. Be prepared to be appalled!
Alan Ayckbourn's introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5
My Wonderful Day is the story of a child who spends a day off school with her mother, a domestic cleaner. Bound by a promise of good behaviour to write her school essay and practise her French, the intelligent eight year old sits alone, silent and largely unnoticed whilst increasingly frenetic domestic activity occurs around her. A solemn, grown-up child surrounded by adults behaving childishly, recording her ‘wonderful day’ as she sees it.
This play, more than most, can be traced autobiographically to my own experience of early single parent childhood. And although I changed both the sex (and indeed the colour!) to distance myself, I was often as a child in similar situations to my heroine, with my mother, a professional short story writer for women’s magazines, dragging me in tow whilst she wheeled and dealt in Fleet Street editorial offices. Like the fly-on-the-wall child, Winnie Barnstairs, I spent much of my time over-hearing the secrets and indiscretions of adults. Just before I wrote the play and probably, if truth be told, what triggered me to write it, was catching sight of my solemn eight year old grandson on the edge of a boisterous family gathering, behaving in similar fashion.
I prefaced the original play script by stressing the importance of trying to avoid entrusting this crucial central role to a child actress. Quite apart from the demand on their attention span and concentration - she never leaves the stage throughout - there is also a practical consideration; in the event of a heavy professional performance schedule, rules and regulations being as they are, the requirement to find a second young actress to spread the workload. Hard enough finding one prodigious eight year old to fill such a role, but two…
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