Woman in Mind, IES at Ilminster Warehouse

EARLIER this year I had occasion to describe a Wellington production as “one of the finest pieces of amateur theatre I have ever seen”.  At the risk of monotony, I can think of no better way to describe Ilminster Entertainment’s Society’s Woman In Mind.

Woman In Mind is one of Ayckbourn’s less accessible plays, and certainly doesn’t have the popularity with producing companies of, for example, The Norman Conquests or Relatively Speaking. For me, however, it is probably his most thought-provoking play and quite possibly his best.

I don’t want to give too much away to readers who may be fortunate enough to see a future production themselves (the Ilminster one, sadly, is now at an end), so suffice to say that Susan, the central character, has a thoroughly unfulfilling real life and an impossibly idealised fantasy one – which seems real to her.  At times the worlds collide with brain-twisting results.  The parallels, or anti-parallels, between the two realities are cleverly drawn and the play is brilliantly structured.

Celia Crookes’ production of this testing piece is pretty much without flaw.  The staging, costumes and lighting are all beautifully designed to point up, without over-stressing, the polarities between the two worlds, and the performances are without exception spot-on.

Jo Neagle as Susan brings out to the full her character’s sense of disorientation and the hopelessness of her real situation, while inspiring more troubling questions as the play progresses – who needs to be pampered quite that much?  Is she really as much of a victim as at first appears?

The ever-reliable Dave Goodall takes the fantasy husband (and, it goes without saying, helped build the set too).  Strictly speaking neither he nor Matt Hughes as the charmingly facetious younger brother are physically quite right for their parts, but their performances are such that within minutes this ceases to matter. Anna Griffiths is physically perfect for the ethereal daughter and the assurance of her performance makes it hard to believe this is her first stage experience.
David Pugh does an excellent turn as the pompous and neglectful real-life husband, as does Paula Denning as the awful sister-in-law, maybe straying just an inch or two in the direction of caricature.  Dave Prior, in a nicely-judged portrayal of a supposed problem child, makes it understatedly clear that his parents are the real problem.  Michael Paine is likewise spot-on in as the bumbling, well-meaning, perpetually wrong-footed family doctor.
High performance standards are generally to be expected in Ilminster. They can’t often have done better than this.



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