REVIEW: Woman in Mind
Alan Ayckbourn’s tragicomedy is brought to Corpus with style and conviction by this extremely talented cast.
“Hang few, hens, sizzle pie tart insole. Hair growing, hens? Fleas, tone show. December choosey. December bee?”
Woman in Mind is a potent play, told from the perspective of middle-class housewife, Susan, who is always-present on the stage. From the very start it is clear we are seeing and hearing the same as the protagonist, but the audience are firmly positioned as outside observers, with the stage literally being fenced off, thus acting as a physical barrier between the outside world and Susan’s mind. The playroom was skilfully converted into Susan’s back-garden where the entirety of the play is set, with ivy draping from the walls, artificial grass carpeting the floor, and a simple garden furniture set occupying the centre of the stage. All in all, the set was both immersive and realistic but also exclusionary, striking the perfect balance in conjunction with the dichotomy between the inside of Susan’s head and the real world.
Simple lighting and excellent characterisation from the cast helped clearly distinguish between Susan’s hallucinations and her relatively mundane and disappointing reality; however, as the play progressed these began to blur, as the audience were sucked further into her mind, and she began to sink deeper into her delusionary fantasy. Bethan Davidson’s portrayal of lead character, Susan, is to be commended, perfectly capturing the character’s dazed confusion at the play’s start, before falling into a state of torment and anguish by its close. Without ever leaving the stage, Davidson managed to seamlessly depict Susan’s varying emotions, competently holding the audience in a constant state of suspense and empathy as she plunged further into her mental anxiety. Reminding me very much of Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar named Desire, Davidson’s interpretation of Susan was flawless and truly mesmerising, leading the action of the play through its many twists and turns with conviction and style: she is a real talent and certainly has a very successful acting career ahead of her.
Helen Vella-Taylor also gave a stunning performance as the sincere and caring doctor, Judith, whilst Benedict Flett perfectly captured the ignorance and pretentiousness of Susan’s real-world husband, and vicar, Gerald. Alongside Louisa Keight as Muriel, the slightly crazed sister of the protagonist, these characters provided many of the play’s largest laughs, and strongly depicted the dysfunctional, broken relationship between Susan and her family, which I am sure many people in the audience were able to relate to in some way or another. This cleverly contrasted the rapport between the alternative household in Susan’s mind, who are introduced in an isolated hallucination before slowly merging with the lead character’s reality, controlling her every thought and action until the whole cast become a part of her fantasy, and reality and the imaginary become fully intertwined. Particularly impressive were Hollie Witton as daughter, Lucy, and Xanthe Burdett as husband, Andy, who both pulled off the acute contrast between the seemingly innocent, and more sinister figures of Susan’s imagination. In a number of poignant scenes it is often questionable whether it is Susan controlling the exchanges in her head, or whether the figures in her head are controlling her, as the burdens of her reality ultimately cause her to descend into a state of delusion.
The contrast between Susan’s stressful everyday life and her idyllic fantasy is brilliantly executed by the cast under the incredible direction of Eva O’Flynn, who handles the play’s delicate and sensitive themes with care, providing fitting escapism for the Cambridge theatre-scene following the stresses and intensity of exam term.
At only just over an hour long, Woman in Mind provides the ideal theatre-fix for anyone with time to spare amongst the frivolities of May Week. You certainly won’t regret going to see it.