Reviews are in for a new revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, playing at the Chichester Festival Theatre starring Jenna Russell.
Alan Ayckbourn’s dazzling 1985 black comedy takes audiences on a dizzying journey through the looking glass into a woman’s mind.
Starring Olivier Award winner Jenna Russell (Sunday in the Park with George, Piaf, EastEnders) as Susan, Woman in Mind is directed by Anna Mackmin.
Joining Jenna Russell in the cast are Will Attenborough (Another Country at Chichester and the West End) as Rick; Matthew Cottle (The Deep Blue Sea and The Chalk Garden at Chichester) as Bill; Marc Elliott (EastEnders, Holby City) as Andy; Flora Higgins (The Crown) as Lucy; Stephanie Jacob (Small Island, Absolute Hell at the NT) as Muriel; Orlando James (Another Country at CFT, Shakespeare in Love) as Tony; and Nigel Lindsay (TV’s The Capture, Victoria, The Salisbury Poisonings) making his Chichester debut as Gerald.
Woman in Mind is playing at Chichester Festival Theatre until 15 October 2022.
"Things get thrillingly weird"
"Our understanding of mental health has changed hugely in the 37 years since Woman in Mind premiered, as has, one would hope, the place of women in society. Why revive the play? Why now? Director Anna Mackmin makes a very strong case that, while some things may be different – and the Middle England Ayckbourn conjures does seem rather distant now – the struggle is still the same for many women, and the suburban dream still as stifling."
"The whole thing is anchored by Russell’s excellent performance as Susan, her emotions rolling and gusting like Simon Baker’s projected cloudscape behind her, laconic and biting one moment, bitter and cruel the next, and then terrified and hopeless."
"Towering over it all, the wonderful Jenna Russell is Susan, balanced between the loveless reality and the impossible fantasy, unable to embrace either, unable to escape either. This is a performance to cherish; hugely comic, hugely tragic."
"It’s a remarkable performance from Jenna Russell – brilliant in fact on this bleakly brilliant night. It’s hardly a night of laughs, but rather better than that, it’s a night that will come back to haunt you."
"Ayckbourn’s Middle England drama feels stuck in the past"
"The humour still works, but in Chichester Festival Theatre's revival, this tale of a housewife's fraying mental health has lost its bite"
"Oliver-winner Russell does a solid job in a role that demands her presence on Lez Brotherston’s English country garden-inspired stage for the entirety of the play’s runtime – though it does sometimes feel as though she is gyrating between either playing bewildered or fed up, with little else in-between."
"Woman in Mind remains a lot of fun, which the rippling laughter across the Chichester Festival Theatre auditorium attests to. But in the end it feels a little like the humour lacks a bit of purpose, because the central character study never quite clicks into place."
"Wishful delusions in a middle aged doldrum"
"It is easy to see why director Anna Mackmin and Chichester thought it a good wheeze to revive this 1984 play: mental health is trending, as is the anxiety that the menopause might drive some women off their heads. And you can’t fault the acting, especially from Jenna Russel’s Susan at its core, and where there is comedy the cast find it."
"But for all its Chichester polish the play feels oddly dated. We don’t relish retrospectives a mere 30+ years ago. Partly I suppose the disconnection (it was a cool un-Ayckbournish house on last-preview) is because a woman this desperately bored with her life would now be able to blog, Instagram and communicate more freely with outside friends on email. Maybe, indeed, that is the 21c version of hallucinating a better parallel life."
"Ayckbourn’s suburban Hedda Gabler"
"It takes a writer of Ayckbourn’s delicacy to tackle debilitating depression as comedy, yet while the deftness of his formal experimentalism endures, the humour feels more dated. In Anna Mackmin’s polite-as-scones-and-cream production, Jenna Russell’s empathetic, dynamic Susan seems as oppressed by her own ideals as by other people’s; although she’s a suburban Hedda Gabler, she’s more likely to reach for her gardening gloves than a gun."
"Cottle’s is one of the more affecting performances in an evening that overall tilts too much towards caricature to grab the heartstrings. Russell’s warmth holds it together, yet Marc Elliott as her “ideal” husband, Andy, is more shiny fantasy than soulmate."
"When the vicar’s wife’s worst nightmare is her own life"
"Jenna Russell stars in Alan Ayckbourn’s exploration of mental illness with an accomplished cast of supporting characters ably adding to the anguish"
"Ayckbourn’s women often occupy the margins of their own lives. In this 1985 play, no one can speak plainly about mental illness, but Susan’s unhappiness goes beyond her lack of career or grating family."
"Bold for its time, Ayckbourn’s exploration of mental illness can feel laborious, no longer theatrically startling and in Anna Mackmin’s production the distress is less lacerating, the seep between registers less surreal than they could be. But Mackmin does dig into the supporting characters, who emerge sodden with sadness..."