My Wonderful Day: Childish Behaviour (2009)This article by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd, was commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2009.
Winona Barnstairs, whose wonderful day you’re about to share, is a very special child.
For in Ayckbourn plays, the general rule of thumb is children should be heard not seen. Outside of his family plays (which have a plethora of children: real, imagined and robotic), the under 12s are rarely seen.
Childish behaviour dominates Season’s Greetings, but the excited children never appear despite being heard. All the best really, considering how badly behaved the adults are in their stead.
There are 70 unseen children in Drowning On Dry Land, most pertinently spoilt car mad Horsham (Harry) and his pony owning baby sister Jade. Better to spoil the child than to actually deal with them. Horsham (the celebrity fad of naming children after their place of conception leaving a lot to be desired) is the son of Charlie, who ends the play in a clown suit traumatising two young girls who are both seen and heard - albeit running away screaming.
In Man Of The Moment, we briefly see seven year old Cindy, but not brother Timmy, in the company of father Vic. Innocence in the hand of evil. Not seen again, she emphasises children are nice to occasionally show off to guests and film-crews, but otherwise best left for Nanny to deal with.
In Henceforward…, nine year old Geain (“Gaelic?” “No, just pretentious”), is confined to an old recording unlike the teenage version; a booted and bearded member of the Sons Of Bitches gang appears at father Jerome’s flat much to his horror.
From the baby of mono-syllabic Evelyn in Absent Friends to the baby-talking Lucy (pity her poor children given how she treats the adults) in Confusions, it is a wonder any child grows up with anything less than a complete set of neurosis - and a place in a future play perhaps….
Tellingly, teenagers do appear occasionally and contrary to what experience tells us, they are generally more rational and better behaved than any adult, from Rick who opens our eyes to his mother in Woman To Mind to the put upon Sam in If I Were You dealing with very bizarre parental behaviour.
So Winnie is rather special, about to be both seen and heard. But if Alan’s plays are generally anything to go by, if it’s childish behaviour you’re after - the rivalry, fighting, jealousies, petty behaviour and mess.
Well, isn’t that what adults are for?
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.