Woman In Mind: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"The world that Susan dreams about is definitely in a dream-world. It's the English Dallas if you like. It is a world that she has read and one tried to create in Woman In Mind out of all the things she's read about, and in fact, she is my age, so she's got all those influences that came in her childhood. But I tried to create in her real world a much drabber... what I call the drabber ages world - real, depressed, sort of rather haunted; everything's fading there. I wanted to try to get the bright colours into the dream world that isn't there. It's a rather sad and shabby world she lives in.
And it's a first person play - meaning that the story should be seen through her eyes; and we are her. And as she goes crazy, we go crazy, so that our perceptions are somewhat heightened by the lighting and everything. That was the idea, anyway."
(Kaleidoscope, 31 May 1985)
"It's a first person narrative play seen through the eyes of Susan. On a simple level it's about this woman who has such an unsatisfactory life she takes refuge in fantasy when life gets too dull. Eventually she can't sort out what is real....
I wanted to write a play in the first person. It's about the biggest woman's part I have ever written - probably the biggest part full stop."
(Richmond And Twickenham Comet, 14 August 1986)
"[Woman In Mind] always had to have a high degree of laughs but I also wanted to - attack is too strong a word - have a go at the pull-yourself-together-woman lot. If I had to be pompous, I'd say that humour is the best way of preaching to the unconverted."
(The Independent, 20 May 1987)
"I think the women in the audience stop laughing long before the men. I don't stand there gleefully watching but there does seem a quite concerted rush to the Ladies at the end.
There's a line in Woman in Mind, "When I think what we could have done with our lives if we hadn't decided to talk about everything first," and there is a universal groan of recognition from the audience - especially from women and children."
(Alan Ayckbourn, 1987)
"I wanted to take an audience into a person's mind and le them experience (to some extent) what it must be like to lose contact with reality. Initially the process is quite amusing, but as panic sets in it becomes increasingly alarming."
(Personal correspondence, 1987)
"I thought those women's magazine fantasy sequences worked better here [Scarborough] than in the West End. On a proscenium arch stage it looked as though that imaginary family came from a specific part of the garden. When I did it in the round, I was able to do a lot with sound and light to show that it was all happening in Susan's head."
(Plays And Players, June 1990)
"Originally, I was going to write about a man who had a heart attack, could hear what was going on around him but who couldn't communicate. We would witness the play from his mind's eye. But then a woman experiencing a mental breakdown seemed so much more interesting that she gradually took over."
(Personal correspondence, 22 February 1994)
"Woman in Mind, for instance - I said, "Don't put this on the poster, but it's about a woman who's having a nervous breakdown." Nobody wants to see that. But it's a very funny play about a woman who hallucinates a dream family because her own family is terrible. And these wonderful characters in white keep bounding on [stage] and offering her drinks of champagne and kissing her, and this is happening in the midst of this dreadful family that doesn't appreciate her at all. On one hand, it's very funny, but as I found out when we did it, there were more women coming out mopping their eyes than laughing. And I said, "My God. This unappreciated-wife syndrome is bigger than we think.""
(Time Out New York, 6 August 1998)
"I have discovered that I often describe, through a character, a problem which is very common. Woman in Mind is a play about a woman slowly losing her grip on reality. She has reached a sexual, social and intellectual crossroads. She is a vicar's wife who has fancifully invented another family straight out of a 1950s magazine: a husband with a white suit, a slightly mischievous son [sic - this should be brother] and a lovely, daughter who adores her. Her family are, in fact an extremely gloomy set of people, but I wrote the play from this woman's point of view, inviting the audience to empathise with her. In the end the woman has a breakdown and just closes down altogether, which is very upsetting. After the play opened, I realised that many women had been very close to that experience. It became the play that men laughed at and women sat watching rather quietly. Julia McKenzie, the actress who played the role, received mountains of mail from women who had been within inches of breakdown. Typical was a letter Julia got from a man in his sixties who wrote: "I came to see a matinee with my daughter who is in her forties. I had a thoroughly good laugh and I looked around to see my daughter crying. I took her to the Savoy for tea and said, 'What's the matter?' She said, 'Daddy, that's happened to me. I had that same complete collapse.' I said, 'I didn't notice:' She said, 'I know.'" In his letter to Julia, he said: "I had a conversation with my own daughter for the first time in my life." I feel this is relevant to what theatre means to communities today. Theatre is a place where we come to witness and to enjoy and to celebrate and occasionally to deplore the state of human behaviour at a particular time. Watching theatre we perceive our own angst or dilemmas."
(Sunday Times, 30 July 2000)
"I’ve directed it twice with two different actresses. Both were excellent, but both found the role exhausting and demanding (naturally) and both also became very identified with the part. Grew into mini-Susans. The result was that my main task was to reassure and encourage and soothe and praise.
Julia McKenzie when she first read the play, asked me when I felt the laughter should stop. I replied, ideally on the last page a second before the last line. We shouldn’t force the humour - but neither should we discourage it. Laughter and seriousness can travel hand in hand in most of my plays very happily. In fact, one without the other can prove highly undesirable.
Because of the nature of this particular play, it is likely some members of the audience will stop laughing before the others do. Generally, the women stopped earlier on!
The other thing to say is that Susan must always appear quite ordinary. It’s a difficult quality sometimes for an actress to catch. Most people who want to act are quite extraordinary! We should never get the feeling - what’s this remarkable woman doing putting up with all of this?
She’s no saint. Remember that everything we see is her vision…. Being the only version we’re offered we should tend to trust her. After all, she is the central character. She should know what she’s doing. Shouldn’t she?
This way, we lead the audience along her path. Try, if you like, to give them a taste of what it must be like not to be able to trust your own perceptions. This very much happens in the second half, starting with her scene with Rick. Maybe, we think, the boy has a point. But having chosen to be cast away in Susan’s lifeboat we have no option now but to row with the woman. Help!
We - designer Roger Glossop and lighting designer Mick Hughes and I - threw the kitchen sink at Woman In Mind in 1985 but this is much simpler and what tricks there are come from lighting and sound and, of course, the actors. I made a vow always to respect what the writer had written before me, and an old know-all like me probably couldn’t write it better than the young man who did.
(whatsonstage.com, 5 February 2009)
"People assume with writing that, hopefully, over the years, you improve, but I wouldn't bank on that. That's why I haven't changed a word of Woman In Mind for the  revival. It would be arrogant for a near 70 year old to think he could improve on a 50 year old's work, however much I might be tempted."
(Sunday Telegraph, 8 February 2009)
Regarding whether Woman In Mind is an auto-biographical play
"Most of my plays at some level are autobiographical. I think Woman in Mind, in the end, is no more and no less than many others."
"I think the character Susan is probably, for dramatic reasons, an extreme case. But many of us dream. It's in our nature and we recognise that and can empathise with her. Dreams are often healthy and usually harmless enough. They give us moments of respite from reality. The danger only occurs when we grow to prefer the dreams over the unbearable truth, as Susan does, and begin to blur fantasy with reality. That way madness lies."
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn