A Woman In Mind

Posted on: 20 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

The real and the imaginary become intertwined in Alan Ayckbourn’s poignant tragic-comedy A Woman in Mind, reviewed by Laurence Green.

The real and the imaginary become intertwined in Alan Ayckbourn’s poignant tragic-comedy A Woman In Mind (also directed by him) which is having its first West End revival in 24 years at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Clergyman’s wife Susan, bored, restless and frustrated with life in general and her family in particular - her dull husband, interfering sister-in-law and estranged and odd son - escapes to a happier, more exciting dream world of her own imagining after suffering concussion from a fall in the garden. 

But when Susan’s two worlds start to overlap and finally collide, danger threatens, for in her fantasy world we meet the perfect family she has conjured up for herself - rich, handsome, loving husband, dashing younger brother and beautiful devoted daughter. 

As her home life becomes more painful and her fictitious relatives no longer bring her comfort and turn malicious, we begin to share her growing fear and isolation.

Ayckbourn is a playwright generally synonymous with domestic comedy so this work marks a daring and radical departure for him, carrying its audience on a tide of laughter into the dramatic realm of madness. 

However, there is a major problem with this production and that is the pacing - the first half moves so slowly that it is easy to disengage with the protagonist and the situation in which she finds herself, whereas the play catches fire in the second half and gathers speed and emotional power so that by the end we are however fully immersed in her plight.

I have no such reservations about Janie Dee, making her first West End performance in an Ayckbourn play in 10 years, who manages to be subtle, sexy and deeply affecting as Susan - despite her miserable marriage and increasing mental confusion, we constantly capture glimpses of the person she used to be, a woman of sharp wit and restless energy. 

She receives fine support from Stuart Fox as her self-important husband, Paul Kemp as the clumsy doctor who harbours a secret yearning for Susan, Sarah Lawn (replacing an indisposed Joanna David) as the trying sister-in-law and Dominic Hecht as her son.

It is a pity that the first half did not match the second but this dark, funny and ultimately troubling play is still worth catching.

By Laurence Green

Show Details

When: Plays in repertory.

Where: Vaudeville Theatre, London

Box Office: 0844 412 4663.

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