REVIEW

Woman In Mind

Chris Avery reviews Woman In Mind

Woman In Mind
By Alan Ayckbourn
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by David Moris

Want to ensure bums on seats? Ayckbourn's your man. "Oh, I love a nice Ayckbourn" say the punters. However what you think you'll see is not always what you get...

To quote director David Morris: Woman in Mind, written in 1985, walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy with almost Shakespearean aplomb. It opens with a dialogue in gobbledegook between Susan, who has just stepped on a garden rake and banged her head, and Bill, the family doctor. As the play progresses we realise that everything we see and hear is what Susan is simultaneously seeing and hearing. As her head clears, the dialogue becomes intelligible, and we are reassured when her loving family appear to make sure she is taken care of. But - hang on, something isn't right here. Who is this other man who also claims to be her husband, and this woman who says she is her sister-in-law? And why are they talking of a life which is considerably less glamorous than the one the other family describes?

Wendy Croft as Susan coped magnificently with the demands of a part which required her to be on stage throughout the whole of the play. Chris Shinn brilliantly characterised her fussy and pompous (real) husband Gerald, complete with embarrassed finger flapping when the subject of sex was mentioned, while Cath Perkins drove them (and us) to distraction as Muriel, the worst cook in the west, with her fixation on the spiritual manifestations (on the bedroom ceiling) of her late husband. Rick (David Mullinger), Susan's son, returning home after a lengthy stay with a religious sect in Hemel Hempstead (!), precipitates his mother's eventual breakdown with a few home truths about his teenage years. In contrast, the fantasy family, played by Tim Boden, Paul Lockwood and Alice Blane, offer a far more inviting luncheon scenario, complete with champagne and loving adoration. Forced to choose between them, despite the increasingly concerned ministrations of Bill (Alan Maltby), Susan, still in the garden during a midnight thunderstorm, eventually descends into a surreal nightmare of jumbled fragments of her real and fantasy lives, pleading "December Bee" (remember me) as the flashing light of the ambulance invades the garden.

This is a remarkable play, and the performance was equally remarkable. As fantasy and reality become ever more intertwined in Susan's head, both families are on stage together and as she pleads with the dream figures to leave her, she simultaneously maintains a tenuous link with their real life counterparts. The timing and ensemble playing of the cast, orchestrated by great direction from David Morris, during this scene enabled her to turn in a truly bravura performance, while her final regression into the gibberish with which the play began left the audience in silent empathy with her plight.

Many congratulations to WCP on presenting us with an Ayckbourn play with considerably more depths and darkness than usual - while still finding, and maximising, the comedy which remains Ayckbourn's trademark.