WOMAN IN MIND: Alan Ayckbourn
Dundee Rep at Birmingham Rep till 28 06 14
Runs: 2h 25m, one interval
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Birmingham Rep, 16 06 14
As painful as it is funny – and it’s very funny.
This is a devastating play. Funny, yes, but also heart-breaking.
Ayckbourn is a master of theatrical chicanery. Here he constructs a narrative about Susan, trapped in a loveless marriage with her vicar husband and fantasising about an ideal marriage. Meg Fraser creates an endearing Susan – particularly endearing through her ability to make us laugh. Susan has a vicious sense of humour – particularly when it’s aimed at her dotty sister-in-law. Fraser gives us glimpses of Susan’s pain drawing us to her so that we want to hold her and protect her. She doesn’t miss a trick.
And she doesn’t miss a trick as she leads us up the garden path and back again, several times.
Susan is not fantasising about her ideal marriage, at least not in the way we become comfortable with in the first half. As Ayckbourn winds up the farcical elements and the action careers along so Susan’s life spins out of control. The truth when it’s revealed is dark; Susan holds our hearts by this stage and we can do nothing but gasp and share her pain.
Fraser’s strong performance is matched by the rest of the team in this cathartic trickery. Richard Conlon is hilariously irritating as the vicar husband and Irene Macdougall makes the comedic most of all her appearances. Neil McKinven is warm, charming, and also dotty as the doctor, Bill. I puzzled about his reason for being present in the opening scene; but as the play concluded I realised that’s rather the point.
Marilyn Imrie directs, allowing the play to find it’s own easy rhythm, but tightening up the spring nicely in the final quarter.
Susan: Meg Fraser
Bill: Neil McKinven
Gerald: Richard Conlon
Muriel: Irene Macdougall
Rick: Scott Hoatson
Andy: Andrew Wincott
Tony: Ncuti Gatwa
Lucy: Laura Dale
Director: Marilyn Imrie
Designer: Ti Green
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday
Composer / Sound Designer: Pippa Murphy
AV Designer: Lewis den Hertog