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A CurtainUp Review
My Wonderful Day
By Elyse Sommer
One of an Ayckbourne play's hallmarks is a conceptual hook that could easily be considered gimmicky in the hands of a less accomplished and inventive scribe. In Ayckebourne's case these devices add piquancy to his generally semi-farcical stories of men and women who behave badly, more like children than responsible adults. This brings us to the hook which this time around is that we get to view the usual cast of immature, misbehaving adults through the eyes of an observant little schoolgirl named Winnie. She's just short of being nne-yeas-old.
The 28-year-old Ayesha Antoine who plays this child who's all eyes and ears has turned my long-standing dislike of adults cast as children on its head. I defy anyone who hasn't been told Antoine's age to see her as a grown-up pretending to be a kid —a kid who's a far better listner than most grownups, especvially this play's self-absorbe bunch.
Winnie is definitely the star of this funny and often quite poignent comedy. She doesn't say much and what she says is usually in bad French and watching her write the essay to be handed in when she returns to school is great fun. Why French? This is a conceit within the conceit of a child's eye view of the play's adult world. It's prompted by the fact that Winnie's single mother Laverne (Petra Letang, played with great warmth by who is actually close to Antoine's age and her real life cousin) dreams of taking Winnie to a better life in the island from which her parents emigrated once her imminently due baby is born.
While wise beyond her years Winnie seems to know that mum's plan is a pipe dream, she goes along with her preparations for that day by making Tuesday a French speaking day. Naturally, the day that turns out to provide Winnie with plenty of material for her "My Wonderful Day" assignment is a Tuesday and pretending that she only speaks French is a convenient way to keep her interaction with the adults around her to a minimum. It's also a running joke that, unlike such things, continues to be funny
At any rate, whether speaking French, writing in her notebook or, at one point, reading aloud from her copy of The Scret Garden, Antoine more than lays to rest Ayckbourn's concerns about the difficulties of not having the actor playing Winnie "up-age" the role (see full quote at the top of the review). Her Winnie is uncannily authentic — whether she's casting wide-eyed looks at the adults around her, expressing discomfort and boredom or nibbling on a chocolate bar, watching her is a riot.
Winnie's star turn notwithstanding, the actors, several of whom are Ayckbourn play veterans, playing the characters whose doings she painstakingly records are also superlative: The unlikeable, philandering Kevin (Terence Boothe). . .Kevin's ditzy but but more likeable girlfriend Tiffany (Ruth Gibson) who wistfully recalls her own sense of abandonment when first sent to boarding school. . . and Kevin's friend Josh (Paul Kemp), a sadsack who stoops to trying to steal a chocolate bar out of Winnie's schoolbag. When Laverne's baby decides to arrive early, Winnie is left in the care of this threesome. No wonder Winnie's scared her mother will die in childbirth.
While Ayckbourn knows how to let a silence speak volumes, things get a bit slow during the too drawn-out business that has Winnie putting Kemp into a deep, snore punctuated sleep with her measured reading of The Secret Garden. But the lull (which could be avoided with a bit of judicious trimming) is quickly ended with the arrival of Kevin's wife Paula (Alexandra Mathie) who, like Amelia Bullmore's high strung Ruth in The Norman Conquests, brings a charge of fresh energy and amazing comic timing. The fast tempo that begins with her coming on stage lasts right through the end .
I've spoken only about Ayckbourne the playwright. But Ayckbourn the director also finnesses his play by cleverly having lighting designer Mick Hughes insure that we see only what Winnie sees, and, with the help of Roger Glossop, evokes the image of a a large town house with minimum scenery.
I won't tell you if Winnie finally lets us hear at least an excerpt from her essay or just how the her not so wonderful day ends. Suffice it to say, that Mr. Ayckbourn winds things up with a fine flourish and that My Wonderful Day is as moving as it is funny.
Links to other Ayckbourn plays reviewed at Curtainup, with an * to mark those presented as part of aBrits Off-Broadway Festival.
The Norman Conquests
Absurd Person Singular-Broadway, 2005
Bedroom Farce (Off-Broadway, 2008)
By Jeeves-Ayckbourn with Andres LLoyd-Webber (NY)
A Chorus of Disapproval--Los Angeles 2006
Comic Potentialn- Off-Broadway 2002 (
Communicating Doors-Off Broadway 1998
Damsels In Distress: GamePlan, Flat Spin. and RolePlay-London 2--2
*House and Garden (London and New York 2002)
*Private Fears, Public Places
Additional productions presented as part of Brits Off-Broadway are Toby Davies' Wolves at the Window (Nov. 10-Dec. 6); Mary Swan and Saul Jaffé's Merrick, The Elephant Man (Nov. 24-Dec. 13); Nichola McAuliffe's A British Subject (Dec. 9-Jan. 3, 2010); Simon Green (Dec. 15-Jan. 4, 2010); Fascinating Aida is Absolutely Miraculous (Dec. 16-Jan. 4, 2010).