BBC Radio 4, 11 January 2014
Since its premiere in 1985, Woman
in Mind has been described as one of Ayckbourn's darkest plays, as he depicts the decline into madness of Susan, a homemaker
neglected by her spouse, patronized by her sister-in-law and rejected by her son.
What emerged most tangibly from Emma Harding's production
was just how relentlessly the dramatist piles on the central character's agony. Susan (Lesley Sharp) came across as
an overbearing mother, a cruel sister-in-law and a wife tired of playing second fiddle to her husband Gerald (Malcolm Sinclair).
Gerald himself came across as emotionally and linguistically buttoned-up, whose only way of dealing with marital crises was
to retire to his study and work, Casaubon-like, on his monumental history of the local parish. In Carolyn Pickles' performance,
Gerald's sister Muriel veered towards caricature in her obsession with her dead husband and inability to cook even the simplest
of dishes. Susan's son Rick (Harry Jardine) was a prig, while the apparently sympathetic doctor Bill (Ben Miles) possessed
no real emotional equipment to be able to deal with Susan's emotional difficulties. In this kind of uncaring environment,
it was hardly surprising that she should construct a parallel universe for herself.
On the other hand, Harding handled the fantasy-sequences
with considerable deftness. Susan's imaginary family - Tony (John Norton), Andy (Owen Teale), and Lucy (Emily Beecham)
- sounded upbeat throughout, punctuating their conversation with endless flattering statements designed to bolster Susan's
ego. In the background, the sound of birds chirruping could be heard, creating an edenic world in which nothing, it
seemed, could go wrong.
However things certainly did go wrong, as Susan ended up confusing her imaginary and her actual worlds.
Once again Harding used sonic effects to emphasize this confusion: musical snatches began and ended abruptly, background sounds
altered at will (instead of chirruping birds we heard a brass band playing), while overlapping voices emphasized the aural
tumult taking place within Susan's mind.
In the end she lost the power of rational speech; her voice became childlike; and the production
ended with a snatch from Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending." The choice of music not only recalled the use of birdsong
earlier on, but suggested Susan's imprisonment; she could never be as free as a bird.