My Wonderful Day: World Premiere Reviews
My Wonderful Day (by Jeremy Kingston)
The children may be sitting quietly in a corner, but does this mean they are deaf and blind to what agitates their elders and so-called betters? Don’t dare to think so. They are alert to everything, internally commenting on it — and, if they happen to be in the presence of one of Alan Ayckbourn’s typical families, they could well decide that when they become adults they will prefer life on a deserted island. Unless they are Winnie Banstairs, that is, the nine-year-old heroine of Ayckbourn’s 73rd play. She records what she sees and hears for a school essay, and if Ayckbourn’s autobiographical notes in the programme are anything to go by she may grow up to write 73 perceptive comedies herself.
Winnie’s heavily pregnant mother Laverne (Petra Letang) is a cleaner at the home of Kevin, a loud-mouthed TV presenter (Terence Booth) and on this day she has had to bring Winnie with her. Kevin’s secretary appears, then his hungover best buddy and finally his furious wife, eager to find Kevin in bed with the secretary. By this time Laverne’s waters have broken and Winnie is left in the eccentric care of these variously churlish, twittering, doleful or furious adults. She listens, she watches, she writes it down.
One of Ayckbourn’s terrific qualities lies in making what must be awful for his characters funny for us. Why this never seems cruel is part of the miracle, and must relate to their inability ever to consider they are being ridiculous. Whenever Ruth Gibson’s Tiffany, the secretary, speaks to Winnie she bends her knees and looks down as though peering into a baby’s pram.
Ayckbourn himself directs with intense precision. Watch how Paul Kemp’s wonderfully deluded Josh, the ravenously hungry buddy, inches towards Winnie’s chocolate bar. And how artfully characters are shown moving between rooms — aided here by Mick Hughes’s ingenious lighting. Ayckbourn can bring the house down with a single word, such as “Enough!” from Alexandra Mathie’s coldly outraged wife Paula, to whom he gives the crispest lines. Watching all this mayhem is Ayesha Antoine’s Winnie, who can show in a mere stare a wealth of critical amazement.
(The Times, 15 October 2010)
My Wonderful Day (by Alfred Hickling)
Alan Ayckbourn is justly celebrated for writing great parts for women. Less often remarked upon is the fact that he also writes excellent parts for little girls. Family shows such as My Sister Sadie and Whenever proved how adept he is at writing grownup plays for children; but this, his 73rd adult drama, marks his furthest exploration into the pre-teen mind.
Nine-year-old Winnie is off school and under her mum's feet, so she has to accompany her to her cleaning job at the home of a smooth but emotionally troubled television personality named Trevor. Winnie is instructed to sit quietly and get on with her homework – which turns out to be a big mistake, as she obliges by doing exactly as she is told.
Winnie's assignment is to produce an essay about her day, and though the events are fairly standard for an Ayckbourn domestic farce – inflated egos, outraged spouses, some well-choreographed comic business involving a wet patch on the sofa – it comes filtered through the cool perception of a child witnessing the irredeemable childishness of adult behaviour.
The difficulty with this conceit is in finding a sufficiently prepubescent-looking actor capable of exuding the requisite air of implacable authority. But Ayckbourn has struck gold with the discovery of Ayesha Antoine – who is, incredibly, in her late 20s, but must surely have a pot on her dressing room table containing the elixir of eternal youth. Antoine has an uncanny knack of remaining sufficiently unobtrusive so that the rest of the characters come to treat her as if she were invisible. Yet such foolish condescension suggests there is no greater danger to adult notions of propriety than a perceptive nine-year-old with a notebook.
(The Guardian, 19 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (by Clare Brennan)
About halfway through Alan Ayckbourn's My Wonderful Day, there is a scene where a nine-year-old girl reads The Secret Garden – first aloud and then quietly to herself – while a man she barely knows snores in a chair opposite her. It lasts for about five minutes. The Stephen Joseph Theatre is in the round and the spectator's attention, as the minutes pass, shifts from the stage to the theatre itself, reflected back from raked seating to right and left, and down again to the child reading and the man sleeping.
It is impossible not to be aware that we are watching a play; yet, even as the time lapse forces us to recognise this, we are drawn deeper in to make-believes: the world we see and the world of the novel being read aloud to us. In that moment, a transformation happens as magical as the most magnificent pantomime transformation anyone could ever imagine, even though, on the stage, nothing changes. It's the transformation in each and every member of the audience, as the playwright dissolves the paraphernalia of our adult selves and uncovers that space inside each of us that is still the child we once were. It allows us, like Winnie, brilliantly played by Ayesha Antoine, to observe the "wonderful day" unfolding around her, with uncluttered eyes.
It's a typically Ayckbourn story – a farce of marital infidelity among media folk. All of the characters, except for Winnie and her cleaner mother, are trapped by the choices they don't have to make. In the presence of the child, they reveal the hopes and aspirations that their own actions prevent them from achieving. Even as we laugh at their ridiculousness, we feel compassion, perceiving that they, too, were children once, like the child Winnie is now; and recognising, as well, how ridiculous our adult selves might appear to the child we all once were.
If Ayckbourn's plays operated on the social rather than the personal scale, his techniques might be described as Brechtian – drawing attention, in an anti-illusionist way, to their own theatrical pretences. But where Ayckbourn aims to amuse by anatomising domestic decisions, Brecht aimed to instruct by deconstructing the social structures that compel people's choices.
(The Observer, 25 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (by Ron Simpson)
The events of a November day in Kevin Tate’s North London home are typical of Alan Ayckbourn’s satire on the middle-classes. Kevin, a presenter of television programmes and promotional videos, has fallen out with his media-savvy wife, Paula, over his philandering with his empty-headed personal assistant, Tiffany. Paula has stormed out, not before avenging herself by corrupting the latest batch of promotional DVDs. During the day Kevin carries on his affair with Tiffany in the marital bed, indecisive executive Josh bumbles his way through an attempt at salvaging the DVDs, and Paula, of course, returns.
However, My Wonderful Day, Alan Ayckbourn’s new play at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, is not primarily a satire. What gives it its originality and transforms it into an affectingly warm-hearted piece is the presence of heavily pregnant cleaning woman Laverne and her (nearly) nine-year-old daughter, Winnie, off school and committed to writing a homework essay on My Wonderful Day. When Laverne goes into labour and is whisked off to hospital, Winnie is left alone with a set of self-absorbed strangers, recording their actions in her exercise book as part of her wonderful day.
At an interval-less 105 minutes My Wonderful Day covers the some eight or nine hours at a fairly sedate pace. Ayckbourn is one of the few playwrights brave enough to focus on a solitary girl’s facial expressions or her reading aloud from The Secret Garden – though, admittedly, in the second case, Josh’s steady descent into sleep adds to the fun.
Ayesha Antoine’s Winnie is a joy throughout: wide-eyed, observant, knowing, but mildly shocked at the bad language and unconventional behaviour, obedient and well-behaved while following her own quiet agenda. Her relationship with her garrulously optimistic mother (the excellent Petra Letang) is beautifully judged in writing and performance, touching and very funny. Typical of Ayckbourn is the way a small motif (speaking only in French on Tuesdays) is mined for maximum unexpected comic effect.
As Little Tiffy, “the half-baked tart”, Ruth Gibson’s Sloany delivery is a touch too braying for my taste, but like Paul Kemp (Josh, the man who repeats himself, much more slowly the second time), she cleverly walks the line between vapidly selfish unawareness of the child and the stirring of more tender feelings. No such problem for child-hating Kevin (the splendidly egocentric Terence Booth). As Paula, Alexandra Mathie credibly switches from cool self-control to volcanic temper.
My Wonderful Day opens in New York almost immediately after closing in Scarborough and is a fine example for American audiences of Alan Ayckbourn’s seemingly effortless minimalist style, aided by Roger Glossop’s three-rooms-in-one set and Mick Hughes’ ingenious lighting plot.
(Whatsonstage.com, 15 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (by Charles Hutchinson)
Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play carries a warning. “Be prepared to be appalled!” he says at the end of his programme notes.
“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.”
Ayckbourn has been watching his unsuspecting fellow man from the age of four, when he would sit in the corner of rooms as a “tiny invisible war correspondent, silent and inwardly digesting”.
For young master Ayckbourn, read one Winnie Barnstairs, nearly nine and off sick from school for the day, a day she will spend recording everything around her for her essay My Wonderful Day. Winnie (the remarkable Ayesha Antoine) sits, often silent and invariably unnoticed, as her very pregnant mother Laverne (Petra Letang) tends to her cleaning chores at the fashionable North London home of boorish television personality Kevin Tate (Terence Booth).
Today is Tuesday, the day each week when Winnie and Laverne will speak only in French to help her schooling: the cue for yet another source of comedy from Sir Alan, who continues to find new ways to entertain, keeping us onside while reminding us of our ceaseless fumbles, failings and foibles.
He does so here by filtering everything through the ever-alert eyes of a young girl, so we can laugh at our weak, rotten, self-absorbed selves. Into the house come Kevin’s dippy secretary and totty on the side Tiffany (Ruth Gibson) and his lugubrious, bleary-eyed friend Josh (Paul Kemp). Towards the close, once Laverne has been sped away to hospital, Kevin’s BAFTA-winning, cheated wife Paula (Alexandra Mathie) arrives in volcanic mood, brandishing the sharpest lines of a play whose momentum is all the better for Ayckbourn foregoing an interval.
Ayckbourn is on top form here – 50 years on from his first play The Square Cat – in his devilishly witty writing, casting and direction. His use of French and long silences and a scene where Winnie reads a passage from The Secret Garden to a snoring Josh all add to his long history of theatrical risk-taking, while he applies Mick Hughes’s lighting and the theatre-in-the-round’s exits brilliantly to create the sense of moving from room to room and to set up action off stage.
His social commentary has renewed bite too, Ayckbourn taking a swipe at soulless city developments in an advert for Fantacity, and issuing a cry from the heart about the loneliness of boarding schools.
After his superlative revival of How The Other Half Loves this summer, Ayckbourn triumphs again with his wonderful new play. Next stop, New York in November.
(The Press, 17 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (By Viv Hardwick)
Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play in 50 amazingly creative years arrives with the puzzling plot of the central character being a little black girl of nine, called Winnie, feigning illness to keep an eye on her heavily-pregnant mother, who is a cleaner and insists her daughter speaks French on that particular day.
Ayckbourn’s eye for detail and mastery in building confections of comedy takes over as Winnie’s world collides deliciously with that of her mother, Laverne’s (Petra Letang) employer. He is overconfident TV personality Kevin Tate (Terence Booth in fine form) who’s made the mistake of his life by allowing his bad tempered wife, Paula (Alexandra Mathie) to discover that he’s bonking simpering production assistant Tiffany (Ruth Gibson). Paula’s decision to insert an offensive description of the affair in the middle of every copy of Kevin’s latest promotional DVD brings his crony Josh (Paul Kemp) scampering round to offer moral support. In the middle of this marital mayhem, Laverne’s waters break all over Paula’s designer sofa and a bemused Winnie, made entirely believable by the diminutive Ayesha Antoine in junior school garb, is then the subject of attempts to amuse, insult, patronise or ignore by the remaining adults.
The all-too-adult scene of starving Josh trying to steal Winnie’s sweets after calling her selfish for not sharing is a beautifully observed moment.
The moment Paula catches Tiffany and Kevin in-flagrante, despite Winnie’s attempts to warn Josh, will take Ayckbourn fans to 73rd heaven.
(Northern Echo, 16 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (By Kevin Berry)
What a remarkable performance.
Ayesha Antoine’s playing of Winnie, around whom events revolve, is quite astonishing. Winnie is nine years old and Antoine looks nearer 11 or 12, but no matter. Her reactions to the annoying adults are sublime - not an expression or movement out of place. As the play progresses it becomes clear that she is going to be on stage throughout. Will she tire? Obviously not.
After the show, it emerges that Antoine is in fact 28 years old, which comes as a shock. Antoine is delivering a complete physical and emotional character. Her body language is perfect - from curious expressions to hunching over her writing to legs swinging when she sits. Even when the cast take their bows she is still a child, squirming at the condescending behaviour of adults, annoyed at the teasing from Terence Booth’s character. Nothing about her suggests a glamorous 28-year-old actress.
Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play looks at marital discord in the fast-fragmenting Tate household. Winnie sits, ignored by the grown-ups and dutifully writing down everything she sees for a school essay. She speaks French because today is Tuesday and her mum (Petra Letang) who cleans for the Tates, has decreed that she must practise French on Tuesdays.
A stable of experienced Ayckbourn actors, with Paul Kemp giving fine emotional detail, carries on under the impression that Winnie is French. They curse alarmingly but because of the situation the cursing is funny. Then, when Winnie starts reading the essay to her mum, the reaction is comic perfection.
After Scarborough, My Wonderful Day goes straight to New York.
(The Stage, 14 October 2009)
My Wonderful Day (by Ian Shuttleworth)
Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play, and his first since retiring from the artistic directorship of the Scarborough theatre intimately associated with him for almost 40 years, is relatively restrained in terms of the formal and structural games he likes to play. It doesn’t have a reverse chronology or multiple time streams; it is not part of a larger group of plays that bifurcate off one another. What it does involve is a central character whose performance, when not silent, is almost entirely in French, to the bewilderment of those around her.
For Winnie is a nine-year-old who, at her mother’s insistence, spends every Tuesday practising French in anticipation of their return to the motherland of Martinique. Winnie, taken with her pregnant mother to her gig cleaning the north London house of a minor television/video executive, sits quietly doing her homework, an essay entitled My Wonderful Day... which, of course, is the day she is quietly observing all around her. The cold, self-absorbed executive is having an affair with his inane, infantile assistant, and they career around the house together with his burbling, ineffectual friend and, later, the bloodthirsty wife out for revenge. Matters are merely strained at first, but once Mum is rushed to hospital after her waters break, they move into almost farcical gear as characters either assume Winnie can’t understand English or speak to her with the ludicrous condescension we usually reserve for babies.
Ayesha Antoine, at the centre of things, does some wonderful wordless acting, catching a child’s fidgetiness without overdoing it or playing the winsome card. Her big brown eyes are both the rope that ensnares the others and the trapdoor that then opens beneath their feet. Paul Kemp, who plays friend Josh, is one of Ayckbourn’s favourite actors, well versed in that kind of amiability that goes just too far, so that we laugh and wince at the same time; he gets a beautiful minor-key moment in an account of weekend access visits to his own daughter.
Terence Booth and Alexandra Mathie as husband and wife Kevin and Paula, are also Ayckbourn regulars, and Ruth Gibson as “big bear” Kevin’s “ickle Tiffy” is all breathlessness and saccharine, as required. It’s not classic Ayckbourn, but there’s certainly life in the old dog yet.
(Financial Times, 15 October 2009)
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