Venue: Drama Barn
‘Woman In Mind’ is centred around Susan, a woman slowly losing her grip on reality as the play progresses. In this production Eleanor Kiff draws us closer to Susan’s point of view. We can see Susan’s elaborate imagined Rose Garden, hear the sounds only she can hear and watch as she slowly loses her grip on who is real and who is not. Clare Duffy’s portrayal of Susan is so realistic and witty that it is almost unbelievable when she starts to lose her mind in the second act. Duffy marks a stark contrast to the characters formed around her and maintains an expertly executed vicar’s wife surrounded by a world of clowns.
Most notably, Kiff gives us a very clear contrast between Susan’s real family and her fantasy family. The fantasy family are as if they’ve come out of a 1950’s magazine, played out with tennis and ‘champers’. Even the lights are dimmed when we return to the world of Gerald and Muriel. That is not to say, however that these characters are by any means dull. They play the comics with a large contribution to wit. On Muriel’s entrances alone, Vanessa Ostick has the audience roaring with laughter. With saggy pantyhose and a monobrow, Ostick plays off Muriel’s undesirable character as a hilarious woman who, despite her best efforts, is no help to anyone. Will Heyes as Gerald, a polite vicar obsessed with writing his book, is in denial about his dwindling marriage to Susan. His embodiment of a tolerant vicar is faultless, from small touches to his spectacles to awkward fumblings with the chair; his awkward outbursts of anger and wit are hilariously entertaining and sharp.
As Ayckbourn’s other comics, the fantasy family provide us with the comedy of the absurd; no one is denied their humour here. Andy Watts as Andy (aptly), upon every entrance commands the space with an amusing and vast stage presence. His characterisation is so flamboyant that the audience cannot help but find him hilarious even when he is simply walking around the stage. Notably, in a scene where Susan and Andy Switch characters between each other and all of the other characters in the play, both Watts and Duffy excellently execute their changes with immense skill that must not go unnoticed. Similarly, Leigh Douglass as Lucy and Jack Gates as Tony supply more absurdism from the British High society. Together the three fantasy characters form a loud energetic bubble, burst by Michael Smith’s Rick at the end of Act One. Smith plays Rick as a hugely naturalistic boy in a grey hoodie and jeans. Smith provides a brilliant sense of naturalism to a colourful and implausible scene.
It goes without saying how remaining on stage one hundred percent of the time is a large challenge for a student but Clare Duffy does not drop for even a second, she embodies Susan expertly and professionally. Bill plays Susan’s doctor who, as she perceives, becomes enamoured with her. David Bolwell as Bill provides a lot of foolish comedy; he falls over frogs and gets himself into hilariously awkward family situations. Bolwell provides us with an incredibly amusing, fumbling and awkward doctor.
I must mention that reading this play does not bring to light even a portion of comedy that this cast give us. Ayckbourn has written a lot of space for character in the play so that the most talented comedy actors could draw from it. Under the direction of Eleanor Kiff, this cast achieved perhaps even more comical moments than intended by Ayckbourn. It is well worth a visit to the barn before the run ends, else you will miss the moment to laugh at Ayckbourn’s farce.