Woman in Mind - Review

Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind –- a fantastic journey

Who Shot the Dog ?

By Barry Hewlett-Davies


On my way out after seeing Woman in Mind, I said thank you to a young member of the cast. He asked me if I had enjoyed it. I said "No!" It didn’t seem to be the sort of show you could claim to "enjoy." My reaction was over the top and I had better apologise. I had fallen (again) for Ayckbourn's craftsmanship and a truly successful production of one of his darkest comedies.

The story seems straightforward enough. We are in classic Ayckbourn middle class territory – vicar's wife becomes totally disorientated as her marriage falls to pieces around her. The action takes place mostly in her head as a fantasy family takes over from her real one. That the imaginary people are just as nasty as the real thing makes her situation even more heartbreaking.

Ayckbourn says the more fond of people he becomes, the more amusing he tends to find them. You have to hang on to this idea in Woman in Mind: as we tread deeper and deeper into the clumsy way the family treat each other, the more horribly comic they are.

Everything about Pat Boxall's production feels right. The show is good to look at and she has a first-rate cast.

Their strength is in their consistency. No matter how unlikely their situation, they always remain in character. The final alarming fantasy when the wedding turns into a race meeting has the authenticity of one of those dreams where impossible events are accepted without question.

Tessa Pointing is the vicar's wife. To say it is her evening, is not to cut down anyone else's achievement and her performance is entirely truthful. At the show I saw, she had several members of the audience in tears. Her "real" husband, the vicar, is David Peaty, a self-regarding obtuse pomp of a man you long to pour a bucket of water over. Lovely !

Much the most real of the "real" people is Dan Walker, the son. Though we've heard some weird things about him before he arrives, he turns out to be the most sympathetically normal of the lot and you feel grateful to have him for his ordinariness. The imaginary family, Nik Hedges, Myles Locke, and Sarah Lauridsen, come over as a smug gang who might have stepped straight out of an out-of-date romantic novel, and are a joy.

There is a bewildered out-of-his-depth GP, played by Bob Ryder, whose well-meaning botch-ups lead only to further disaster, and an irritating sister-in-law (Tess Gill) dispensing uneatable food before turning into an unbelievably pregnant cocktail waitress, both of them first-rate.

The production is dedicated to the memory of Jill Felix – a good evening in the theatre, one of NVT's best for some time, and a very good example of successful ensemble playing.

The play dates from 1986.

I never have been certain who shot the dog.