My Wonderful Day: History

Although children have played a significant part in Alan Ayckbourn's plays - even if largely unseen! - My Wonderful Day marked the first time a child was front and centre in one of his plays.

Behind The Scenes: Life Of Winnie
Within the Ayckbourn Archive, there is a hand-written plot synopsis circa 2008 titled Life Of Riley (which bears little resemblance to the 2010 play of that title). The notes have a small role in an 11 year old girl Winnie Barnstairs, who is receiving French tuition and whose mother is called Glynis. Alan took the name and her French studies and re-purposed the secondary character as the lead character in My Wonderful Day.
With its lead character of nine-year old Winnie Barnstairs, My Wonderful Day marked the first time one of Alan's non-family plays had featured a child so prominently.

The play also proved to be a significant addition to the Ayckbourn canon appearing in the same year which marked the 50th anniversary of his debut as a professional playwright and his 70th birthday.

The roots of the play lay in 2008 when Alan wrote a synopsis for an entirely different play but which included a nine-year old character called Winnie Barnstairs. When Alan decided to instead work on a new idea, Winnie was promoted from supporting character to the lead in a challenging new work from the playwright.

Behind The Scenes: Title Change
The play was originally announced in late May 2009 with the title as Winnie's Wonderful Day. However, this title was then altered in mid-June 2009 to My Wonderful Day; the change apparently as a result of worries the title gave the impression it was one of Alan's family plays, rather than part of the 'adult' canon.
The first draft of My Wonderful Day was finished on an audacious day in itself. Writing was completed on the morning of 27 March 2009, that afternoon he announced the title of the play to the Stephen Joseph Theatre company during an informal event for the Stephen Joseph Theatre company to mark him steeping down as Artistic Director after 37 years in the role. The play was announced to the public shortly afterwards in the souvenir programme for the Ayckbourn At 70 season at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton.

Although several elements of the play were drawn from the previously mentioned earlier concept, his major inspiration for writing My Wonderful Day was - arguably for the first time - autobiographical, drawing from his own experiences as a child. Alan has spoken candidly how the play is semi-autobiographical and draws on his childhood memories of accompanying his mother to meetings and social gatherings. There - ignored by the adults - he would quietly watch and absorb everything, possibly gaining a lifetime's worth of material to draw upon in his plays! Prior to My Wonderful Day, the playwright has denied that any of his plays were autobiographical and has frequently rebutted suggestions that Woman In Mind was inspired by his relationship with his mother.

Behind The Scenes: Miliie or Winnie?
Following Alan's announcement to the company of the play title in May 2009, his biographer Paul Allen - who had attended the meeting - was interviewed by the BBC World Service's The Strand. There not only did he inadvertently he announce the play before the theatre had officially confirmed it, but also gave the title as Millie's Wonderful Day.
On 26 June, the Stephen Joseph Theatre company was informed My Wonderful Day would immediately transfer after its premiere to New York. This marked the first time an Ayckbourn play had transferred directly to America following its world premiere and the first time the very first professional production of an Ayckbourn play following its premiere has taken place in the USA. This was publicly announced by Variety on 26 July with it being revealed the play would be presented as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at the 59E59 Theatres, New York, between 11 November and 13 December, 2009. Alan had previously toured the SJT company to the festival with tremendous success with his productions of Private Fears In Public Places in 2005 and Intimate Exchanges in 2007.

The major difficult with My Wonderful Day was casting the role of nine-year old Winnie. Alan was aware it would be practically impossible to cast a girl of the correct age and instead decided to search for an adult actress who could play the role. The solution was found by his casting agent, Sarah Hughes, who audition 28 year old Ayesha Antoine, who so convincingly transformed into Winnie that many audience members refused to believe anything but a young girl had played the role.

My Wonderful Day opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 8 October 2009 with its official premiere on 13 October. This marked Alan's first world premiere at the venue since stepping down as Artistic Director. The one act play was performed without an interval and received predominantly excellent reviews.

The play's transfer to New York was equally well-received with notably excellent reviews from the
New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press. Once again, as had previously occurred with Alan's prior visits to the Brits Off Broadway festival, the play broke box office records at the 59E59 Theaters and the production featured in several best theatre of 2009 lists.

In both the UK and America, Ayesha Antoine was singled out for unanimous praise for her role as Winnie. She was nominated for Outstanding Actress in the prestigious American Drama Desk Awards (with the production also receiving an Outstanding Play nomination) and she was also the recipient of the 2010 TMA Award for Best Supporting Performance In A Play for her role as Winnie.

My Wonderful Day is the first Ayckbourn play to be written specifically for a black character in the shape of Winnie (in fact, it's written for two black characters, Winnie and her mother, Laverne). Contrary to the impression given by some articles, this was not the first time a black actor had appeared in the world premiere of an Ayckbourn play though as both Drowning On Dry Land and Private Fears In Public Places featured the black actress Billie-Claire Wright in the 2004 premieres at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Significantly, it is also the first time a child has played a lead role in one of the 'adult' plays (obviously they have featured heavily in the family plays). Prior to My Wonderful Day, children are generally heard but not seen in Alan's plays. In My Wonderful Day, Winnie is seen but generally not heard!

In 2010,
My Wonderful Day embarked on a three month UK tour with the original company directed by Alan Ayckbourn and following its initial success in New York, it was quickly picked up for production by regional theatre companies in North America; it has continued to prove popular there and has received far more productions in the USA than in the UK.

Samuel French published the play in March 2011, when it was also made available for amateur production in the UK. Faber also published it as part of the collection
Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5 in 2011.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.