Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes about Woman In Mind were written by Alan Ayckbourn following an enquiry about the character of Susan in 1990.

Thoughts on Susan

I've directed it Woman In Mind 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. They grew into mini-Susans. The result was that my main task as director 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 that 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 this?

She is also no saint. Everything we see is her version. Ideally - in theory if not in practice (God forbid) - every time Susan blinks the lights should dip. We get her version of events from square one. 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. We 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 life boat we have no option now but to row with the woman. Help!

* This was written prior to Alan Ayckbourn's 2008 revival of Woman in Mind at the Stephen Joseph Theatre starring Janie Dee.

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