The University of York’s drama society is one of the oldest and most prolific in the country, producing over eight plays a term. These are either existing plays or newly written ones, so they’ve got a pretty exciting repertoire of shows to go around. Now in my second term here at York, I was invited to the society’s very own Drama Barn to review their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, written in 1985.

Woman in Mind follows Susan, a woman whose mental health has been deteriorating rapidly. She lives at home with her horrendously dull and boring husband Gerald and his miserable sister Muriel, and later with her estranged son Rick, who returns from a cult that forbids its members from speaking to their parents. To escape this mundane life, Susan dreams up the ideal family consisting of a suave husband, devoted younger brother and a darling daughter, who bring her comfort in moments of sadness, anxiety and general boredom. However, as the play goes on, the lines between Susan’s fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred, and it isn’t long before her two worlds frighteningly mix together to show the true effects of the woman’s poor isolation and detachment from her dismal real life.

Okay, so all of that sounds a little bit, erm, hard-hitting – but in reality the play is very funny. This comes from the brilliant performances from the whole cast, who tap into the comic nuances of their characters to communicate Ayckbourn’s equally comic writing. One of the top-drawer performances certainly goes to Clare Duffy for her brilliant portrayal of Susan, and she creates a realistic portrayal of a woman on the brink of madness induced by those around her. Alongside her, Vanessa Ostick gives a glitteringly funny performance as Gerald’s miserable sister, who attempts to thwart Susan’s attempts at being happy with her terrible cooking and constant patronising. Meanwhile Will Heyes himself steals plenty of laughs from the audience thanks to his portrayal of the over-nannying whelp of a husband, who drives his wife into madness.

It’s worth mentioning the effectiveness of the simple set within the intimate performance space. Nice and uncluttered, it allows the audience to focus on the actors and their comic performances, while well-thought out changes in lighting help us to distinguish between Susan’s real world and that of her fantasy. It also signifies changes in scenes with ease, and allows the audience to be drawn into both of the title woman’s worlds without making a massive fuss over it.

Woman in Mind is the first show I’ve come to review for DramaSoc, and I left the Drama Barn with a smile on my face, knowing that I’d seen an excellent piece of theatre that communicates to a modern audience and provides them with a great evening. The production is fresh, engaging and a real barrel of laughs that leaves you thinking long after you leave the theatre.

Woman in Mind played at the Drama Barn until 1 February. For more information, see the University of York Drama Society website.