Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Music: Paul Chamberlain
Director: John Cotgrave
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
“Nothing is what he is, no one is who he seems…”
In the second of two alternating Ayckbourn productions, is the tale of Susan – the titular Woman in Mind – and her two families, one real, one a fantastical hallucination. Following an unfortunateincident with a garden rake, the two begin to combine in ways both hilarious and unsettling, leading the audience to question what reality actually is.
Utilising the same cast (plus a couple of extras) from Invisible Friend, the production running alongside this, Woman in Mind comes across as the stronger of the two performances. Susan (Maria Sykes) is an absolute joy to watch, with her portrayal of a woman descending into madness; believable, funny and at times incredibly poignant. She is 100% in the moment at all times, never leaving the stage, and is easily the lynchpin of the piece. She is ably supported by the rest of the cast, most notably John Cotgrave (also the director) as Doctor Bill, a clumsy, self-deprecating man who you cannot help but root for. Phil Butterfield is superb as suffering husband Gerald, and Alice Scholes as hallucinatory daughter Lucy.
The atmosphere of the show is one of bubbling tension between laugh out loud sarcastic asides and witty observations, with a delicious undercurrent of creepiness. The later scenes, where the madness is starting to take over, are where the hallucinations really shine in their sinisterness, although an opportunity is missed to really push the boat out with the creepy aura, of which hints were given early on. The narrative is pacey and intriguing, if a little long.
As with Invisible Friends, Woman in Mind does also suffer a little from the staging. The promenade stage is lovely and very well utilised by the actors, but audience members on the back rows of seating are often locked out from a full view of the action.
That said, however, Woman in Mind is a very enjoyable show and one that is recommended. As well as the laughter, you will leave with a slight sense of unease, not only over the events you have just watched but also with regards to the treatment of mental health in general.
Runs until Saturday 17th September (performances alternate with Invisible Friend) | Image: Contributed