For almost fifty years Alan Ayckbourn’s plays have tackled the darkest of subjects, often dealing with the weaknesses within middle-class society lifestyle. In this respect, Woman in Mind is no different. Susan is a bored and lonely Scottish suburban housewife. Her son has grown up and moved away; she hasn’t seen or spoken to him directly for two years. Her husband is a minister whose main focus is working on a book he has been writing for years. Feeling neglected, Susan no longer understands her role in life. After an unfortunate incident with a garden rake, Susan begins to visualise a very English and sophisticated world of champagne, tennis courts, swimming pools and a loving family that dote upon Susan after her nasty fall in the garden. Her fantasy world provides Susan with everything she lacks in her sad and shabby reality yet as the play progresses, Susan’s reality and fantasy begin to merge into one as she struggles to control the perfect, imaginary family in her mind.
Structured in first-person narrative, the audience quickly identifies with Susan. On the surface she’s sharp and witty; inside she’s falling apart. As Susan begins to lose sight of reality, the audience too experiences a sense of disorientation. We see through the eyes of Susan and as a result we learn that we cannot always trust our own perceptions. It is when Susan truly loses grip of her senses that we see flickers of genius written by Ayckbourn. The final climactic scene is particularly moving and as her two worlds finally collide, we feel a sense of Susan’s helplessness and vulnerability in her state of mental breakdown.
Meg Fraser is outstanding as Susan and is supported by an incredibly strong cast. Ti Green’s set of imposing trees and disorderly shrubs is complimented by Mark Doubleday’s creative lighting and Lewis den Hertog’s images, creating a garden true to the description of the shabby realistic type yet still capable of accommodating the Noel Coward-esque upper class English family who continuously stroll through the area (on cue to Pippa Murphy’s suitably dream-like yet haunting music) to check up on their beloved Suzy and hand her another glass of champagne.
Starting on a comedic high, there are moments where the play lapses into the briefest of pauses however the latter half of the second act redeems the play and highlights the quality of Ayckbourn’s writing. Beautifully directed by Marilyn Imrie, Woman in Mind is a fantastically funny yet dark study of the disregarded wife and her slow descent into madness.