Review: My Wonderful Day

LOTTIE UNWIN thinks with 73 shows under his belt, Alan Ayckbourn shows the Cambridge theatre scene how it’s done.

Ayckbourn Cambridge Arts Theatre My Wonderful Day

 

Monday 22nd – Saturday 27th, 7.45 at The Cambridge Arts Theatre.  £10-£27.


Directed by Alan Ayckbourn.

I bounded out of the Arts Theatre and back to my bike with fond memories of a wonderful evening.  Ironically, for the characters, ‘wonderful’ doesn’t really do the complexities of their day justice – Mr. Tate finds out his wife knows he is having an affair with his colleague Tiffany, Laverne Barnstairs’ waters break as she is at work cleaning Mr. Tate’s house and when she’s at the hospital Mrs. Tate comes back to find Mr Tate in bed with Tiffany. Nine year old Winnie Barnstairs sits and watches.

Ayckbourn knows that last, not first, impressions count. Intially, My Wonderful Day was hollow, leading mechanically to an end like a reconstruction video or a play put on at school to prove its best to say no. Sex, drugs or bullying is interchangeable. The fault was not the actor’s who gave brilliantly observed performances of real life people but the motions of the plot, setting the story up bit by bit like a game of dominoes.

In time the carefully arranged pieces were ready and the brilliant, farcical and hilarious play began to fall into place with exciting pace. Though the aged audience around me was howling from the start I begun to get why.  As Paula, Mr Tate’s wife, apologises profusely to a silent Winnie, promising she won’t loose her temper again there was raucous laughter – Mr Tate is upstairs in bed with ‘ickle Tiffy’ and we all know how the story will unfold.  By the time the actors took their bows, still charmingly in character, my conviction that the audience was laughing only because they felt they should was a very distant memory.

When the show was at it’s best, it didn’t milk the audience for anything, leaving no time to wallow in the emotional moments. While this was almost always refreshing, when Laverne, Winnie’s mum and Mr Tate’s cleaner rebukes a question about her departed husband, “We’re better off without him, aren’t we Winnie?” I yearned for her face to give something away. Alternatively, the uneventful moments, like Winnie reading a story to Josh, Kevin Tate’s friend, were allowed to run their course, revelling in the beautifully captured moments. But, very occasionally I found myself bored by the tease.

My Wonderful Day celebrates and demonstrates the power of really good acting and if the standard had been anything but astounding I am not sure what Ayckbourn’s play would have amounted to. Though Ruth Gibson’s Tiffany, Mr Tate’s young colleague and lover, was incongruously full on amongst a naturalistic cast, like everything else, the tension her performance created came into it’s own. Ayesha Antoine’s performance as Winnie is enough to make this show worth seeing.  The miracle that the shy nine year old I saw on stage is in fact a twenty eight year old woman is entirely baffling and awe-inspiring.

I cycled home past The Corn Exchange to hear Peter Andre’s voice booming and was convinced of the importance of sheer, unadulterated talent.   With no interval, before you know it My Wonderful Day will have rattled past it's shakey start. The last hour is simply, utterly endearing.