Woman in Mind is Alan Ackbourn at his best: there is no shortage of laughter throughout the play, but it is also thought-provoking and disturbing. We are taken into the mind of Susan, a middle-aged woman in a loveless marriage, who has created an imaginary family to cherish and adore her. As the play progresses, she finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the real people in her mundane life and the increasingly bizarre figments of her imagination ̶ with devastating consequences for herself.
While Woman in Mind reflects many of Ayckbourn’s recurring preoccupations, mental health issues are of special significance. This theme arguably resonates much more with audiences today than when the play was first performed in 1985, initially to a mixed critical reception. Subsequent revivals have, however, recognised its strengths, confirming that the play is one of Ayckbourn’s strongest and most enduring works.
Peter Wood, the director of this production at the Sewell Barn Theatre, commented: “When I read Woman in Mind around a year ago, I was immediately drawn to its subject matter. I was also fascinated by Ayckbourn as an adventurous innovator, not afraid to experiment with theatrical styles and push the boundaries of possibility. Conveying a sense of two competing worlds ̶ fantasy and reality ̶ presents many challenges, not only for the actors but also for set design, lighting and sound. The part of Susan is enormously demanding; in fact, I would suggest it is one of the great female roles in modern theatre.”
Sewell Barn is fortunate in having the accomplished Mandy Kiley to play the title role. The rest of the cast includes the experienced Barn actors Kevin Oelrichs (as clerical husband Gerald), Alexandra Evans (his sister, Muriel), John Griffin (as Bill, the clumsy GP and friend of the family) and Lee Johnson (Susan’s fantasy husband). We welcome Brad Mercer (playing the disaffected son, Rick) as a Barn newcomer, together with Jasmine Warne and Ben Allen (as Lucy and Tony, other members of her imaginary family).
Woman in Mind will be performed at the Sewell Barn Theatre, Constitution Hill, Norwich NR3 4BB from Thursday 20 January to Saturday 29 January 2022. Tickets are available online at £10 and £11 from TicketSource via www.sewellbarn.org, also by phone via 0333 6663366. Booking fees are now included in the ticket prices. We are continuing with Covid precautions introduced last year, including limiting audience capacity to 60% (60 ticket sales per performance). The wearing of face coverings inside the theatre is now mandatory except when consuming refreshments or for those formally exempt.
Photos for Woman in Mind Credit for all photos: Barry Parsons, East Anglia Photo Services