Thursday 14th July to Saturday 16th July and Wednesday 20th July to Saturday 23rd July 2016 at 7:30. Matinee on Saturday 16th July at 2:30
Directed by Andrew Caple
Ayckbourn wrote Woman in Mind for the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough where it opened in May 1985. It is regarded as a defining play in Ayckbourn's career, the start of a period when increasingly darker elements are incorporated into his plots. In this case, though still a comedy, it is provocatively based around a woman on the edge of a breakdown. Renowned for his plot gimmicks this play is no exception. It is, maybe uniquely, a 'first person' narrative. A play experienced by the audience through the eyes and ears of the main character, Susan. What we see and hear is what Susan sees and hears, or Susan imagines she sees and hears.
The play is said to be one of Ayckbourn's most personal, his own mother suffering mental illness in his youth. As such, he has created in Susan, one of the most significant woman's roles in modern theatre. A centre stage performance that demands the actress to run through the whole gamut of emotions, leading the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.
Although not originally critically acclaimed it got a West End Transfer in 1986 where it received excellent reviews, winning Julie Mackenzie the Evening Standard Best Actress Award for her performance of Susan. It has since gained a reputation of being one of Ayckbourn's best and is still regularly performed by amateur and professional theatres around the world.
Susan, a middle aged housewife, lives a drab, disappointed existence. Ignored by her husband, disowned by her son, she survives by conjuring up an imaginary family with whom she can live out her dreams. But when the strain gets too much, fantasy and reality start to collide in an increasingly absurd and comic sequence of events.
Don't miss an opportunity to see one of Ayckbourn's most acclaimed plays, a devastatingly funny and poignant tale of a woman slowly unravelling.
"... a dazzling, provocative evening... which is both hilariously inventive and demonic" - Sunday Telegraph
"... theatrical surprise and emotional intensity which knocks you for six..." - Daily Mail
This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Stage Manager||Maurice Lillie|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Melissa Hackney|
|Lighting Design||Andrew Caple|
|Lighting Consultants||Phil Hanley, Thomas Hall|
|Sound Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Lighting Operation||Ingrid Corrigan|
|Sound Operation||Julie Wood|
|Set Design||Dan Finch, David Penrose|
|Set Construction||Bench Members|
|Handbill Design||Dan Finch|
|FOH Manager||Gina Farmer|
This play has been a long time coming. It started out in 1992 when I saw a production of Woman In Mind at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester. I was struck by the audacity of the idea and the inventiveness of the plot. Impressed by the challenge it imposes on the lead actress. A play so well written that it can turn from hilarious comedy to heartfelt poignancy in the blink of an eye. A fascinating proposition for any director, cast and crew to take to stage.
I persuaded the Bench Theatre to allow me to direct it for the July 1996 production slot. However the production, with its specific casting requirements, fell at the auditions and had to be abandoned. Subsequently the play was selected again under a different director but also couldn't be cast, after which the play took on 'albatross' status for the company. Now, exactly 20 years after the first attempt, I'm having another go. And I can report, with great relief, that we are third time lucky. I hope you find our play has been worth the wait.
Every now and again you sit through an amateur performance certain aspects of which defy the popular view of what 'amateur' entails and The Bench's latest offering - Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind - certainly ticks boxes galore.
That Ayckbourn favourite - a woman in the middle of a psychological crisis - is once again central in this engaging play, by Tom's Midnight Garden out of The Exorcist. Here we have Susan, recently the victim of a head-injury, attempting to negotiate her way through an hallucinatory existence with an idealised family in an eternal garden when rude reality threatens to intrude.
There is much good work to praise here. Sarah Parnell as the put-upon Muriel is a creation of genius and Pete Woodward and Simon Walton as vicar and doctor respectively, give nicely-studied work with an eye to detail. The ubiquitous Aaron Holdaway presents an essay in comedic delivery too.
As Susan, Sally Hartley gives one of the most astonishing performances in local theatre it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Measured, believable, truthful, both vulnerable and strong and utterly convincing.
Director Andrew Caple has drawn out the best of this ensemble cast. See it if you can.
James George, The News, July 2016
His protagonist, Susan (Sally Hartley), following a concussion, finds herself embraced by the perfect fantasy family, a stark contrast to her patronising and distracted husband, Gerald (Pete Woodward) and her nightmarish sister-in-law, Muriel (Sarah Parnell).
Hartley never leaves the stage, which she so skilfully commands; expressing her inner thoughts utterly, as she gradually loses control of her own imaginings. Her stage family are equally convincing, with Woodward's irascibility and Parnell's caustic twittering being both comical and cringe worthy.
However, next to her fictional family, they are saints, as the trio, doting husband, Andy (Steve Burt), irrepressible brother Tony (Ben Tanner) and perfect daughter, Lucy (Kirsty Terry) lead us all into a darker, disturbing world.
The simple set and spot-on lighting and sound complete the picture. This is a story told not in words, but visually and Bench Theatre nailed every element. Tremendous theatre!
Rebecca Case, The Echo, July 2016
The latest production from the acclaimed Bench theatre group has taken 20 years to stage since the first attempt and includes 3 new members making their debut. 'Woman in Mind (December Bee)' opened in 1985 and is one of the 79 plays written by Sir Alan Ayckbourn. This prolific playwright is renowned for his tragi-comedy using amusing everyday situations but dredged in pain. This particular drama explores mental illness, female isolation and society's failure to address the issues.
The play opens with middle-class Susan on the ground in her back garden, having suffered slight concussion following a fall. She is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and starts communicating with a fantasy family she has conjured up where she is adored and cherished. These hallucinations see her enjoying a privileged lifestyle with joyful tennis matches, champagne and an attractive attentive husband, compared to the reality of her disgruntled, conceited and sexless vicar/husband intent on completing his 60 page history of the parish, her estranged and reclusive son and her exasperating live in widowed sister in law. This dark portrait of solitude escalates as her idealised symbolic family starts to collide with her own agonising solitary emotions and highlights the failure of religion and the ineffectual assistance of her well meaning GP struggling to cope with the situation.
Director Andrew Caple and his technical team have produced an interesting garden setting complete with lawn, pots and trellis, while the sound technicians have excelled with tortuous magnified voices and weather effects. Wardrobe too have ensured the cast are appropriately well costumed.
Sally Hartley steals the show with an epic performance as the protagonist Susan. Running through a gamut of emotions and on stage throughout, she shows great psychological depth as she handles this poignant and harrowing mental breakdown. She is well supported by confident newcomers, namely Steve Burt (Andy) and Ben Tanner (Tony) taking the roles of her imaginary family members with Kirsty Terry as her sweet devoted daughter Lucy.
There is plenty of enjoyment to be had from this moving production as the accomplished cast unravel Susanís torment and appear to be talking nonsense!
Jill Lawrie, Remotegoat, July 2016