This is Alan Ayckbourn’s seventy third play. Think about that for a minute. He has written seventy three plays. I have seen a lot of them and it has to be said that not all of them are great, in fact some of them are duds, but if you have written that many plays then this fact isn’t even a criticism- more like an inevitability. The best of them are some of the most clever, hard edged and technically accomplished comedies that you could hope to see. He has made a huge contribution both to British theatre and the town of Scarborough which he adopted many years ago as his home. They haven’t always appreciated him there but their indifference has given a quiet self effacing man the chance to work on his craft without being bothered too much and build relationships with other creative people over the years in a familiar comfortable environment. It has suited him. It has suited me too, as where else would you always be sure of getting a seat for the world premieres of Britain’s most popular playwright? My Wonderful Day is going straight off to New York to open off Broadway, and The Norman Conquests won seven Tony awards last year but Scarborough can’t even be bothered to sell out a 404 seat capacity house for a month to see it. A local councillor once gave his opinion that the money (little enough) given to the SJT would be better spent on public toilets. Do I sound angry? Well I am a bit.
So, what about My Wonderful Day? It is the story of a day in the life of a nine year old girl whose heavily pregnant mother brings her along to her cleaning job when she claims to be too ill to go to school and it’s a small gem. While Winnie sits around writing her essay assignment ( My Wonderful Day) about what is going on around her we see the heartaches, foibles and stupidities of the people around her through her eyes as she observes them and writes about them. Much of the high drama happens off stage and we observe it through her reactions. There are plenty of beautiful gentle little jokes and it takes the confidence and technical skill of a man who has spent his life writing and directing theatre to have the confidence to bring them off. It also demands a star performance from the actress playing Winnie, the nine year old observer, or it will never work, and thankfully it gets one in spades from Ayesha Antoine. She is an experienced 28 year old actress but her skill, and her interest in child psychology, has produced a performance which is a funny, truthful and utterly convincing portrait of a nine year old girl. And I should know, I taught enough of them over the years. You could see the wheels going round in her brain and know what she was thinking thanks to the way that every moment of the performance had been carefully thought out and followed through. It was utterly charming.
This is a quiet thoughtful play from a man who is looking back at his own childhood and using a lifetimes experience in theatre to make his points, relying on character and small beautifully played moments to do the work, there are no showy fireworks, and no overt technical cleverness. There is a sequence where Winnie is reading aloud from The Secret Garden to one of the characters, a lonely part time dad whose marriage has broken up, which is a complete joy without anything much actually needing to happen, simply because what we do see is totally honest and psychologically believable. The staging is clever, with three rooms being represented by a minimum of furniture and lighting and delineated by accurate movement from the characters. The other performances are funny and mostly not overplayed for laughs and two hours of action and reaction, played without an interval, flies by.