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.