Woman In Mind Review

Chichester Festival Theatre – until 15th October 2022

Reviewed by Sally Lumley


Woman In Mind, by Alan Ayckbourn, has been brought back to the stage at Chichester Festival Theatre. This dark comedy centres around Susan (Jenna Russell), a middle-aged woman who we meet as she comes round from a concussion, having knocked herself out by standing on a rake. This incident triggers a deterioration of her mental health and we, the audience, are the witnesses as she unravels.

The Susan we meet is happy, with her charming husband, dashing brother and adoring daughter in a sunny, rose-filled garden. However, as the play progresses, we understand that this is a world she has created to compensate for her reality. The real Susan feels trapped and unfulfilled in her life as housewife to an ungrateful husband, living with her resentful sister-in-law, feeling that she has failed as a mother to her absent son. Susan is a woman desperate to be seen and heard, and to be appreciated by those around her.

Jenna Russell’s outstanding performance as Susan was committed and nuanced. She depicts Susan’s journey perfectly throughout, from mild confusion at the start of the play, to her gut-wrenching collapse at the end. She thoughtfully portrays the terror and confusion of mental illness, and where it didn’t make sense to her character, the audience was also left feeling unsettled. This was often an uncomfortable watch, but it felt like that was the point, as we joined Susan and empathised with her journey.

Matthew Cottle as Bill Windsor provides some typical Ayckbourn light relief along the way as Susan’s doctor, an outsider caught up in the family drama. The use of humour is clever, lifting the audience out of moments of darkness, and perhaps reflecting society’s tendency to avoid dealing with mental health issues head on.

The staging is excellent, at first glance the stage represents a typical British back garden. However, in contrast to the luscious rose-filled garden of Susan’s imagination there isn’t a flower to be seen. The weather is also used throughout to mirror Susan’s turbulent and sometimes stormy state of mind; the rain is particularly effective in the second half to pinpoint how far she has declined.

Woman In Mind is at times confronting and uncomfortable, but the humour sprinkled throughout stops it from becoming overly dark and it is an evening very well spent. It is a gripping and very relevant depiction of mental health issues and leaves the audience with a lot to think about.