I RECENTLY spent a week in a hotel in Eastbourne. At the end of my stay, I felt that I had a better understanding of Alan Ayckbourn. Previously, I'd encountered his class of characters only on the stage. I'd half suspected that his particular breed of privileged home-counties ladies and blimpish retired colonels didn't actually exist for real. However, in Eastbourne, they certainly did.
So it's all the more fascinating to be back in Scotland watching Marilyn Imrie's tremendous production of the playwright's 1985 comic drama and find her putting Ayckbourn's middle-class Englishness at one remove.
Susan, the woman we find concussed on the back lawn at the start of the play, has all the attributes that Ayckbourn gave her – she's witty, self-deprecating and under extreme psychological pressure – but she's also Scottish.
And when she comes round, hemmed in by the silver birches of Ti Green's set, looming like a sinister extension of her troubled mental state, something significant has changed. She has acquired a pristine English accent.
As Ayckbourn wrote it, her mental breakdown is expressed in terms of a retreat into an idyll of champagne breakfasts and jolly tennis matches. Here, there's an extra level of dislocation because her hallucination takes place in a semi-mythical England. It makes Ayckbourn's strange Englishness seem stranger still.
Coming across like a companion piece to Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Woman in Mind is a funny and unsettling vision of mental ill health, its cosy rituals of family life acting as a thin veneer to cover Susan's awful inner torment.
In the lead role, Meg Fraser switches gracefully between deadpan putdown, breezy charm and emotional terror. It's a superb performance, given excellent support from Neil McKinven, bringing a Chekhovian level of ineptness to the doctor, and Richard Conlon as a husband who is alone in finding his own jokes funny.