WOMAN IN MIND: Who doesn’t love an Ayckbourn play? There’s something so ingenious about the way he weaves his words through each scene – there’s no line wasted or thrown away. The difficulty is finding a cast capable of using the script to the best of its ability, something Masque Theatre have done here beyond any doubt.
From the very beginning, we’re treated to John Myhill‘s superb Bill Windsor talking in what appears to be utter gobbledegook, as Susan, played by the brilliant Nicola Osborne, comes round from a bang on the head. Confused and bewildered, her imaginary perfect family (played by Andy Rowe, Emma Burgess and Sion Grace) come to her rescue, reminding her that she’s amazing, and providing all the love she doesn’t feel from her real husband Gerald (Martin Williams), sister-in-law Muriel (Megan Lucas), and absent son (Ciaran Redmond). But as the play develops, Susan has increasing difficulty separating what is real, and what is imaginary, and struggles to maintain the balance she’d established before her accident.
Perhaps the first thought that comes to mind is how much comedy can one reasonably derive from a play about mental illness, but Ayckbourn’s script, and the cast, never poke fun at it. Ayckbourn has a wonderful habit of building up the comedy before turning the situation on its head, and it’s never more evident than in Woman In Mind – it’s clear to see why this is considered one of his best works. There is genuine concern from the “real” characters, albeit not always demonstrated in the kindest of ways. Martin Williams‘ Gerald comes across as delightfully vile, making it clear why Susan had to invent her loving alternate family in the first place, but there is real worry in his voice at times. Theirs is not a happy marriage, and scenes between the two of them are a definite highlight of the show, with Susan’s sarcasm and frustration clear to see in Osborne’s wonderful facial expressions, alongside Gerald’s slightly perverse delight in winding up his neglected wife. Nicola Osborne as Susan was magnificent – she is on stage for the entire play, and her performance was truly masterful right to the very end.
The imaginary family, it transpires, are not quite as perfect as you might have thought – Andy Rowe‘s Andy has a quiet menace from early on that is hard to put your finger on, but really comes to the fore as the play moves towards its surprising conclusion. Emma Burgess‘ sweet and innocent Lucy and Sion Grace‘s positive and complimentary Tony manage to say some genuinely terrible things under the guise of being “lovely” and smiling while they say it.
The real family, by contrast, may not be quite as bad as Susan makes out, but are still not the nicest of people. Beyond the neglect and harshness of Gerald, there is Ciaran Redmond‘s youthful Rick, who’s initial quietness hides a more assertive character, and the perpetually annoyed Muriel, played fantastically deadpan and blunt by Megan Lucas.
Even Doctor Bill Windsor has ulterior motives for treating Susan – John Myhill played him with a twinkle in his eye along with a subtle sadness and longing; and without giving too much away, his scene with the handkerchief rabbit was a wonderful dark comedy moment not many will forget!
The set was simple but effectively done, with few props to deflect from the excellent acting – a garden with decorative trellis and a stone frog (is it a frog?!) Lighting and sound were mostly used to good effect, especially the tone of the lighting to denote the different “worlds” in Susan’s mind, although the “voice over” section was a surprising miss hit, but the only bum note in the production.
This was an all-around amazing production, performed with heart and soul by a very well cast team of actors, and one I suggest you leap at the chance to see.
Performance: Tues 13 Feb 2018
Woman in Mind is presented by Masque Theatre and runs until Sat 17 February, at The Playhouse Theatre, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £9 (£8 concessions), and available online. For more details, please visit the group’s website.
Becki is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. She also works for Royal & Derngate as Marketing and Press Assistant. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too. Becki also blogs at StageyRebel