If Alan Ayckbourn had written his 1985 study of one woman's
psychological unravelling today, chances are that his heroine, Susan,
would be so numbed by Prozac that her descent into fantasy would have
been blotted out by the end of the first act. As it is, Marilyn Imrie's
lush-looking revival for Dundee Rep's Ensemble company and Birmingham
Rep reveals Ayckbourn as a far darker chronicler of the very English
garden he occupies than he is often given credit for.
Opening with composer Pippa Murphy's anxious-voiced chorale, we're
ushered into Susan's idyll, a world occupied by a white-suited husband,
a beautiful and talented daughter and a brother who would defend her to
the death. Such endlessly sun-drenched perfection is upended, alas, by
the reined-in torpor of something both more mundane and a whole lot
more complicated. When it becomes increasingly hard for Susan to tell
which world she belongs in, she takes a mental leap too far.
Flanked by trees and with a giant cube hanging down onto the garden,
Imrie's production heightens Ayckbourn's deadly exchanges to breaking
point, provoking at least two gasps of recognition from the audience on
Friday's opening night. At the show's centre is a vigorously no holds
barred performance from Meg Fraser as Susan, with some strong support
from an impressive cast.
In its melding of fantasy and reality, Ayckbourn's play is on a par
with Dennis Potter's TV drama, The Singing Detective, which appeared in
1986, while it also pre-dates Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of
Dissocia. In Susan, however, Ayckbourn has personified an entire
generation of women, screaming inside, destined never to be heard.
The Herald, May 26th 2014