Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Opened 13 October, 2009


Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play, and his first since retiring from the artistic directorship of the Scarborough theatre intimately associated with him for nearly 40 years, is relatively restrained in terms of the formal and structural games he likes to play. It doesn’t have a reverse chronology or multiple time-streams; it isn’t part of a larger group of plays that birfurcate off one another. What it does involve is a central character whose performance, when not completely silent, is almost entirely in French, to the bewilderment of those around her.
For Winnie is a nine-year-old schoolgirl who, at her mother’s insistence, spends every Tuesday practising French in anticipation of their return to the motherland of Martinique. Winnie, taken along with her pregnant mother to her gig cleaning the north London house of a minor TV/video executive, sits quietly doing her homework, an essay entitled “My Wonderful Day”... which, of course, is the day she is quietly observing all around her. The cold, self-absorbed husband is having an affair with his inane, infantile assistant, and they career around the house together with his burbling, ineffectual friend and, later, the bloodthirsty wife out for revenge. Matters are merely strained at first, but once mum is rushed to hospital after her waters break, they move into almost farcical gear as characters either assume Winnie can’t understand English or speak to her with the ludicrous condescension we usually reserve for babies or kittens.
Ayesha Antoine, at the centre of things, does some wonderful wordless acting, catching a child’s fidgetiness without overdoing it or playing the winsome card. Her big brown eyes are both the rope which ensnares the others and the trapdoor which then opens beneath their feet. Paul Kemp, who plays friend Josh, is one of Ayckbourn’s favourite actors, well versed in that kind of amiability which goes just too far, so that we laugh and wince at the same time; he gets a beautiful minor-key moment in an account of weekend access visits to his own daughter. Terence Booth and Alexanda Mathie as husband and wife Kevin and Paula are also Ayckbourn regulars, and Ruth Gibson as “big bear” Kevin’s “ickle Tiffy” is all breathlessness and saccharin, as required. It’s not classic Ayckbourn, but there’s certainly life in the old dog yet.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2009

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage