Woman in Mind is a play by Alan Ayckbourn, first staged in 1993.
The play is unusual in that the audience hears and sees the same things as the main character Susan. The play starts with Susan unconscious on the ground and Bill, her doctor, near her. Bill starts talking gibberish and Susan cannot understand him. After a while Bill starts speaking English.
It appears that Susan knocked herself unconscious by standing on a rake. Bill goes to see if the ambulance he called is on its way and to make Susan a cup of tea. While Bill is gone, Andy, Susan’s husband, arrives. Then Lucy, Susan’s daughter and Tony, Susan’s brother come on the scene. They have been playing tennis and are drinking champagne. They show affection to Susan and wish to look after her.
Bill comes back out and there is confusion over Susan’s family. Susan believes she has a daughter called Lucy while Bill thinks she has a son called Rick. As their conversation ends, Susan’s real husband, Gerald, enters along with Muriel, Susan’s sister-in-law. When Susan sees her real family she faints. When she faints there is a blackout on stage as we are seeing the story through Susan’s eyes.
It is the next day and Susan has come back from the hospital. Susan has an argument with Gerald about their marriage. Susan says that they do not share a bed any longer and have no sex. Gerald reminds Susan that Rick, their son, is coming for lunch. There is another argument, this time over their son Rick's upbringing. Muriel takes Gerald’s side and there is obvious hostility between Susan and Muriel. We also find out that Rick has been part of a religious order for the last two years, and has not spoken to his parents for that time although he writes letters to his father.
Susan then sees her other family, while Gerald goes to write his historical book. Both the families appear on stage at the same time although there is no interaction. Lucy tells Susan she is getting married.
Bill is asked to communicate to Rick on their behalf as his order disallows spoken communication between children and their parents. Rick then arrives, but Susan stays in the garden and does not meet him. Lucy tries to get Susan to stay for lunch, but Susan says no. Tony also tries to get Susan to stay. Bill then comes out and tries to persuade Susan to come and see her son. For the first time we see that Lucy and Tony are aware of Susan’s other family. Rick then comes to the garden and speaks to Susan. Susan is shocked and faints causing another blackout.
Rick tells Susan that he is now married to a woman called Tess who is a nurse. He also tells her that he is moving to Thailand, without Susan seeing his new wife. His reason for not letting Susan meet his wife is that Susan is an embarrassment and his upbringing was a nightmare.
Susan speaks to Gerald and tells him their son’s news. She then becomes aggressive towards Gerald, and is egged on by her other family who suggest insults for her to use. Susan then ends up snapping at Lucy. When Susan apologises to Lucy, Gerald thinks she is speaking to him and accepts it.
Gerald rejects Susan when she tries to speak to him. Susan becomes emotional and tells Andy she does not want to see him all the time. She used to call him when she wanted to see her imaginary family. There is then a confusing scene between Andy and Susan where they swap roles and become different characters. Susan then gets angry and tells Andy and the rest of her imaginary family to stay away.
Susan is aware she has lost control and asks Bill if she is possessed. Bill then flirts with her and offers to help her. He then pretends to see Lucy but mistakenly thinks she is a child. The imaginary family want to get rid of him and Susan can see he is danger. Bill can then see Tony.
there is a huge storm which indicates sex between Susan and Andy. Gerald then finds her sprawled outside in the storm. Susan mentions divorce to Gerald, who ignores the comment. He is convinced Susan set fire to his book which has only one page remaining. Muriel believes that her dead husband has written ‘knickers off Muriel’ on the wall.
Tony comes on carrying a parasol. The weather becomes nice and the umbrella is now a parasol. Susan believes it is Lucy's wedding day, but it suddenly becomes a horse race, with Lucy as the horse. Thailand is in the distance and Muriel is a pregnant maid. Susan is confused as is the audience.
Gerald enters; he is a bishop who performs divorces. The two families interact for the first time, which summarises the collapse of her mental state (the interactions between all the real and imaginary characters depicts her mentality as extinct). A little while later Susan is asked for a speech, and after a while, the speech ends up being in gibberish, much like Bill's first speechin the opening scene. The families fade away and there are ambulance lights, there is then a final blackout.
Alan Ayckbourn shows two different classes of people in ‘Woman in mind’. There are the upper class (rich) and the middle class (not poor, but not rich). Susan’s imaginary family is the Upper class, where as Susan and her real family are middleclass.
Susan’s language varies depending on her situation. When Susan is confused she can be whiny. This can be seen in act one where she says, ‘I’ve tried so terribly hard, too. Terribly hard’ (p10) Although Susan can be whiny, when angry she is straight to the point, ‘what do you want Gerald?’ (p23). This also makes Susan seem irritable and grumpy. Susan’s persona changes though when she is with her other family. With other family she acts spoilt,’ It’s nothing, Andy, really. You mustn’t fuss…’ (p13).
Bill is a cheerful, clumsy character. Bill is aware that he is clumsy, and is jolly in spite of it, ‘Hallo, there – whoops-‘, ‘That’s my friend the frog again…’ (p33) Bill also tries to look on the bright side of things, more than any other character, ‘People may catch diseases but at least they die happier.’ Bill, like Susan’s imaginary family, has an upper class accent, ‘Sounds a cracker.’ (p39).
Muriel sees herself as the self-sacrificing one who looks after everybody else, ‘I nursed our mother perfectly satisfactorily for her last twelve years…” “…And my dear, late, bedridden husband Harry for another seven. I cooked three meals a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five day a year for that man till he died…’ Muriel also does not see eye to eye with Susan. This can be seen several times in the text, ‘I don’t know what you know about these things, Susan…’ (p32), ‘I hope it’s all right. Susan generally manages to find something wrong with my coffee…I’d of thought that she’d of made some herself by now, rather than leaving it to me…’ This also shows resentment on Muriel’s part, towards Susan and the fact that she ends up working with no praise only criticism.
Gerald is calm, most of the time apart from when the book he is working on is destroyed, and then he shows that the book is of more concern to him then Susan, even though she is outside in the thunderstorm. ‘Never mind her. Did you manage to save any of my book?’ (p78).
Rick can be caring towards his parents, this can be seen when Susan and Gerald are outside in the thunderstorm, ‘Sorry, dad, I did my – (Seeing Susan) Mum? What’s the matter with mum?’ (p78). However he can also neglect his mothers feelings.
Andy is Susan’s imaginary husband. Andy is very loving towards Susan, “Of course I fuss, you’re my wife, I love you…” (p13) Andy has an upper class accent. This can be seen when Andy says, ‘Drink it, darling, it’ll buck you up’ (p14). ‘Buck’, is not a common word to use and sounds upper class . Andy is also a romantic (romance is not the same as love. Romance is an expression of it, instead), he talks about their wedding day and sunsets, ‘beautiful, isn’t it? The sunset?’ (p61).
Andy and Susan’s imaginary daughter, Lucy, speaks like a child even though she is an adult, “Mummy! Daddy!” (p13). Lucy is very possessive of Susan, “What about us? What about the family? You can’t leave us…” (p46).
Tony, Susan’s imaginary brother, is also possessive of Susan. When bill is talking to Susan, Tony tries to get Susan to get rid of him, ‘Tell him to get lost.’ (p47). Tony loves his sister. This can be seen when he says, ‘…Because we love you and we don’t want to see you hurt’ (p47). Tony can also be aggressive. Along with the rest of the imaginary family, Tony has an upper class accent, ‘Champers.’ (p14).
The language of the play, is an important part of characterisation, it shows the personality and thought process of the character. Alan Ayckbourn's use of language identifies which class each character belongs to, as well as their relationship with each other.