Woman in Mind

Written by Alan Ayckbourn

Thursday 14th July to Saturday 16th July and Wednesday 20th July to Saturday 23rd July 2016 at 7:30. Matinee on Saturday 16th July at 2:30

Directed by Andrew Caple

AuthorAlan Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn

2016 marks Alan Ayckbourn's 55th year as a theatre director and his 57th as a playwright. Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most prolific and widely performed of living English language playwrights and a highly regarded theatre director. He has written 80 full length plays and has won Olivier, Tony and Molière Awards for his work.

Ayckbourn was born in Hampstead and wrote his first play at prep school when he was about 10. After leaving school at 17, he began a temporary job at the Scarborough Library Theatre. In 1957, he married Christine Roland, another member of the company, and his first two plays were written jointly with her under the pseudonym of "Roland Allen". They had two sons, however the marriage had difficulties which eventually led to their separation in 1971. Neither he nor Christine sought a divorce for the next thirty years and it was only in 1997 that they formally divorced after which Ayckbourn married Heather Stoney.

In 1962 he became Associate Director of the Victoria Theatre Stoke-on-Trent and two years later he was a Radio Drama Producer for the BBC in Leeds. Ayckbourn established himself as a popular playwright in the the 1960s achieving West End successes with 'Relatively Speaking' and 'How The Other Half Loves' In the 70s he returned to Scarborough as the Director of Productions.

In 2007, following a stroke he announced he would step down from his role as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Ayckbourn, however, continues to write and direct his own work at the theatre and in 2009, his contribution to theatre was recognised by the Olivier's Special Award.

Woman in Mind was first performed in 1985 in Scarborough, moving onto the Vaudeville Theatre, London in 1986.

PlayWoman in Mind

Ayckbourn wrote Woman in Mind for the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough where it opened in May 1985. It is regarded as a defining play in Ayckbourn's career, the start of a period when increasingly darker elements are incorporated into his plots. In this case, though still a comedy, it is provocatively based around a woman on the edge of a breakdown. Renowned for his plot gimmicks this play is no exception. It is, maybe uniquely, a 'first person' narrative. A play experienced by the audience through the eyes and ears of the main character, Susan. What we see and hear is what Susan sees and hears, or Susan imagines she sees and hears.

The play is said to be one of Ayckbourn's most personal, his own mother suffering mental illness in his youth. As such, he has created in Susan, one of the most significant woman's roles in modern theatre. A centre stage performance that demands the actress to run through the whole gamut of emotions, leading the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.

Although not originally critically acclaimed it got a West End Transfer in 1986 where it received excellent reviews, winning Julie Mackenzie the Evening Standard Best Actress Award for her performance of Susan. It has since gained a reputation of being one of Ayckbourn's best and is still regularly performed by amateur and professional theatres around the world.

Susan, a middle aged housewife, lives a drab, disappointed existence. Ignored by her husband, disowned by her son, she survives by conjuring up an imaginary family with whom she can live out her dreams. But when the strain gets too much, fantasy and reality start to collide in an increasingly absurd and comic sequence of events.

Don't miss an opportunity to see one of Ayckbourn's most acclaimed plays, a devastatingly funny and poignant tale of a woman slowly unravelling.

"... a dazzling, provocative evening... which is both hilariously inventive and demonic" - Sunday Telegraph

"... theatrical surprise and emotional intensity which knocks you for six..." - Daily Mail

The Bench Production

Woman in Mind poster image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


SusanSally Hartley
BillSimon Walton
AndySteve Burt
LucyKirsty Terry
TonyBen Tanner
GeraldPete Woodward
MurielSarah Parnell
RickAaron Holdaway


Director Andrew Caple
Producer David Penrose
Stage Manager Maurice Lillie
Assistant Stage Manager Melissa Hackney
Lighting Design Andrew Caple
Lighting Consultants Phil Hanley, Thomas Hall
Sound Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Ingrid Corrigan
Sound Operation Julie Wood
Set Design Dan Finch, David Penrose
Set Construction Bench Members
Costumes Bench Members
Programme Derek Callam
Photography Jacquie Penrose
Handbill Design Dan Finch
FOH Manager Gina Farmer

Director's Notes

This play has been a long time coming. It started out in 1992 when I saw a production of Woman In Mind at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester. I was struck by the audacity of the idea and the inventiveness of the plot. Impressed by the challenge it imposes on the lead actress. A play so well written that it can turn from hilarious comedy to heartfelt poignancy in the blink of an eye. A fascinating proposition for any director, cast and crew to take to stage.

I persuaded the Bench Theatre to allow me to direct it for the July 1996 production slot. However the production, with its specific casting requirements, fell at the auditions and had to be abandoned. Subsequently the play was selected again under a different director but also couldn't be cast, after which the play took on 'albatross' status for the company. Now, exactly 20 years after the first attempt, I'm having another go. And I can report, with great relief, that we are third time lucky. I hope you find our play has been worth the wait.

Andrew Caple


Portsmouth NewsJames George

Woman in Mind

Every now and again you sit through an amateur performance certain aspects of which defy the popular view of what 'amateur' entails and The Bench's latest offering - Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind - certainly ticks boxes galore.

That Ayckbourn favourite - a woman in the middle of a psychological crisis - is once again central in this engaging play, by Tom's Midnight Garden out of The Exorcist. Here we have Susan, recently the victim of a head-injury, attempting to negotiate her way through an hallucinatory existence with an idealised family in an eternal garden when rude reality threatens to intrude.

There is much good work to praise here. Sarah Parnell as the put-upon Muriel is a creation of genius and Pete Woodward and Simon Walton as vicar and doctor respectively, give nicely-studied work with an eye to detail. The ubiquitous Aaron Holdaway presents an essay in comedic delivery too.

As Susan, Sally Hartley gives one of the most astonishing performances in local theatre it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Measured, believable, truthful, both vulnerable and strong and utterly convincing.

Director Andrew Caple has drawn out the best of this ensemble cast. See it if you can.

James George, The News, July 2016


The EchoRebecca Case

AYCKBOURN is a master of tragic comedy, and never more so than with this tale of dissatisfaction, disintegration and delusion.

His protagonist, Susan (Sally Hartley), following a concussion, finds herself embraced by the perfect fantasy family, a stark contrast to her patronising and distracted husband, Gerald (Pete Woodward) and her nightmarish sister-in-law, Muriel (Sarah Parnell).

Hartley never leaves the stage, which she so skilfully commands; expressing her inner thoughts utterly, as she gradually loses control of her own imaginings. Her stage family are equally convincing, with Woodward's irascibility and Parnell's caustic twittering being both comical and cringe worthy.

However, next to her fictional family, they are saints, as the trio, doting husband, Andy (Steve Burt), irrepressible brother Tony (Ben Tanner) and perfect daughter, Lucy (Kirsty Terry) lead us all into a darker, disturbing world.

The simple set and spot-on lighting and sound complete the picture. This is a story told not in words, but visually and Bench Theatre nailed every element. Tremendous theatre!

Rebecca Case, The Echo, July 2016


RemotegoatJill Lawrie

Ayckbourn's poignant emotional roller coaster

The latest production from the acclaimed Bench theatre group has taken 20 years to stage since the first attempt and includes 3 new members making their debut. 'Woman in Mind (December Bee)' opened in 1985 and is one of the 79 plays written by Sir Alan Ayckbourn. This prolific playwright is renowned for his tragi-comedy using amusing everyday situations but dredged in pain. This particular drama explores mental illness, female isolation and society's failure to address the issues.

The play opens with middle-class Susan on the ground in her back garden, having suffered slight concussion following a fall. She is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and starts communicating with a fantasy family she has conjured up where she is adored and cherished. These hallucinations see her enjoying a privileged lifestyle with joyful tennis matches, champagne and an attractive attentive husband, compared to the reality of her disgruntled, conceited and sexless vicar/husband intent on completing his 60 page history of the parish, her estranged and reclusive son and her exasperating live in widowed sister in law. This dark portrait of solitude escalates as her idealised symbolic family starts to collide with her own agonising solitary emotions and highlights the failure of religion and the ineffectual assistance of her well meaning GP struggling to cope with the situation.

Director Andrew Caple and his technical team have produced an interesting garden setting complete with lawn, pots and trellis, while the sound technicians have excelled with tortuous magnified voices and weather effects. Wardrobe too have ensured the cast are appropriately well costumed.

Sally Hartley steals the show with an epic performance as the protagonist Susan. Running through a gamut of emotions and on stage throughout, she shows great psychological depth as she handles this poignant and harrowing mental breakdown. She is well supported by confident newcomers, namely Steve Burt (Andy) and Ben Tanner (Tony) taking the roles of her imaginary family members with Kirsty Terry as her sweet devoted daughter Lucy.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be had from this moving production as the accomplished cast unravel Susanís torment and appear to be talking nonsense!

Jill Lawrie, Remotegoat, July 2016

Production Photographs