Woman In Mind: Synopsis

Cast: 4 male / 4 female
Running time (approximate): 2 hours 5 minutes - not including the interval
Acting edition: Published by Samuel French

Woman In Mind is a play told from a subjective viewpoint; everything is seen from the perspective of Susan who is present on stage at all times. The audience sees and hears what she sees and hears. In two parts of the play, the dialogue as heard or delivered by Susan is apparently incomprehensible, Alan Ayckbourn's translation of this dialogue can be found here.

Act 1
Susan groggily awakes from a blow to the head from standing on a garden rake, to discover the family doctor Bill Windsor tending her and apparently speaking in gobbledygook. As her senses return, he leaves her to get a drink and Susan’s apparent Family enter and join her in their apparently huge and perfect grounds: her husband Andy, brother Tony and daughter Lucy. All perfect, all beautiful, all a fantasy. In reality, Susan is trapped in a loveless marriage in a mundane world, as is revealed when Bill returns with Susan’s real family, her self-absorbed husband, vicar Gerald, and his sister, Muriel - who lives with them but is merely a burden obsessed with her dead husband. Upon seeing them, Susan collapses again.

Having spent the night in hospital, we find Susan in the garden and begin to realise the depths of the problem between husband and wife. With Muriel having served ground coffee, believing it was instant coffee, a tense conversation reveals Susan’s son Rick is coming for lunch; Rick having not spoken to his parents for years since joining a cult in Hemel Hempstead. Susan and Gerald are also revealed to have stopped sleeping together long ago and that Gerald has been working for years on a history of the parish.

Bill returns to check on Susan and is invited to stay for lunch, in the hope he will act as a mediator between Gerald, Susan and Rick. He agrees whilst Susan is told by Lucy that she has met someone and wants to get married. As the Family tries to attract Susan’s attention with a lavish lunch, Rick arrives and Gerald urges Susan to join them all for lunch. Her refusal leads to Rick coming out to the garden and speaking to Susan for the first time in years; as the Family looks on, she collapses in front of Rick.

Act 2
Susan awakes in the garden with a worried Rick. She reassures him and learns he has left the cult having met a girl whom he has married. Susan is further shocked when Rick reveals he and Tess are immediately leaving for Thailand and that he has no intention of letting his family meet his new wife. Susan’s belief that she has been a kind and attentive mother are given a severe knock when Rick tells her she frequently humiliated him and embarrassed his girlfriends. Rick goes to pack leaving Susan to tell Gerald the news, with an increasingly belligerent Family egging her on when she refuses to accept any responsibility for what has happened.

As Lucy tries to comfort her, it becomes obvious that Susan’s Family draw their own lives from Susan’s experiences. Confused by all that is happening, Susan tells Lucy to go away and confronts Gerald about their relationship. He walks away from her and Andy appears; Susan futilely telling him to go away, leading to a disturbing confrontation in which it becomes unclear who is controlling who in Susan’s mind. Andy departs, leaving Susan shaken but convinced that she has rid herself of the Family.

Bill returns and Susan asks whether he believes she could be possessed; he agrees it might be a possibility but feels her symptoms are more likely to do with Susan being stressed and that she shouldn't try to bottle her feelings up. Fatally, Bill chooses this moment to declare his long-held love for Susan, at which point Lucy returns. Bill pretends he can see her and this lie following on so soon from a moment of complete honesty is the final straw for Susan. Bill becomes part of her fantasy and Andy returns to make love to Susan in the garden, leading Susan to believe she is being seduced by the Devil.

Now late at night and during a thunderstorm, Gerald comes looking for Susan. While they have slept, his manuscript has been set alight and a message has been left on Muriel’s ceiling purporting to be from her dead husband. Unable to cope with her behaviour any more, Gerald leaves Susan who is having a complete breakdown. Lost in her own world as she attends Lucy’s wedding, events become more grotesque and she begins speaking the same strange language she heard Bill speaking at the start of the play. Delivering a final speech, her now intertwined fantasy and real families abandon her until she is alone in darkness, pleading ’December Bee’ (remember me) lit only by the siren light of an ambulance.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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