Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Marilyn Imrie
Reviewer: Sam Chipman
Woman In Mind, Alan Ayckbourn’s first play to use first-person narrative, is regarded by many as one of his best; this from an impressive canon of 75 full length plays. Ayckbourn’s work, putting ordinary people into not so ordinary circumstances, has lea to the phrase “Ayckbourn Country” being coined for his own unique theatrical landscape.
Everything in Woman in Mind is seen from Susan’s viewpoint, who remains on stage at all times. Her story is a muddle, having being concussed shortly before the action begins, and we find her battling with reality as a fantasy world invades her own. In a loveless relationship, and with issues in the family she flits in and out of this champagne filled, luxurious fantasy world with an idealistic family dressed all in white who show her the adoring attention she desires. In typical Ayckbourn fashion, the two worlds begin to overlap before colliding to humorous effect.
Ti Green’s design is certainly striking, with an ominous woodland set resembling A Midsummer Night’s Dream surrounding the garden that is central to the play. It suits the play to a tee, achieving both a confined and a spacious feel at the appropriate moments. It is very well complemented by Mark Doubleday’s lighting, which excellently marks the distorted and disjointed world of Susan’s mind.
Meg Fraser is an absolute marvel as Susan, a perfectly bitter yet vulnerable interpretation of the woman whose world is being turned upside down. She never allows her energy to drop, with the right amount of anguish, anger and confusion in her performance. Fraser switches flawlessly between the Scottish accent and a more correctEnglishused in the two worlds she inhabits, and the subtle characterisations that also come with these changes.
Neil McKinven is also on top form, a sublime comedic performance as Bill. He strikes all the right notes with a carefully developed performance which leaves the audience in waves of laughter as he gets drawn into Susan’s mad world. Richard Conlon gives us a grounded performance as Gerald, Susan’s real life husband in opposition to the idealistic husband Andy, played by Andrew Wincott.They are supported by a cast of equally accomplished actors. It is fair to say that a play, no matter how good the leads, will not truly be excellent without support from the ensemble.
Marilyn Imrie’s direction is precise and certainly does justice to this Ayckbourn classic; the disorientating tale is allowed the breathing space it needs without ever feeling like it lags. The farcical moments are infallible and the darker moments suitably stronger to complement this.
There may be some objection to the use of Scottish accents within this quintessentially English play; however this does suitably contrast the more upper class British accent used to clearly mark the difference between the family in Susan’s fantasy world and reality.
Sharp and witty with exceptional acting, allowing Ayckbourn’s magic use of language to shine through – just the way it should be.
Picture: Douglas Robertson | Runs until 28th June 2014