Unsuspecting Susan

The dramatic monologue can be utterly captivating in the right hands and a perfect example of the genre can currently be sampled in Stewart Permutt's tragicomedy at the Kings Head. Celia Imrie plays the eponymous Hampshire mother whose ostensibly quiet village existence masks troubling undercurrents that come to the surface as the monologue progresses. Susan muses to herself, at once relentlessly cheery and increasingly uncertain, making the audience complicit in her gradual awakening, something easily fostered in the intimate auditorium.

Imrie is a consummate comic actress and she has a tailor-made vehicle for her talents in Permutt's sharply observed, witty play that begins with a beguiling lightness of touch, slowly revealing darker depths that add weight and poignancy under Lisa Forrell's capable direction.

Susan is an established member of the local community, a dedicated bellringer and amateur actress, performing in "The Killing of Sister George." Divorced and living alone with her dogs since having been 'dusted down and taken on and off the shelf,' Susan's beloved son Simon is her principal focus, a schizophrenic who's recently moved to London with a flatmate. Like much in her life, Susan has constructed a comfortable cocoon around her son, a partial, distorted version of his life that soothes her maternal conscience and which slowly unravels to devastating effect.

It's crucial for Susan to be a plausible rather than a simply pitiable figure and herein lies Imrie's particular gift. She manages the difficult feat of presenting a delusional woman as a fully realised character: a potentially pathetic figure who nonetheless possesses great poignancy and humanity as she's forced to confront and consequently take responsibility for her actions. Moving, beautifully acted and completely engrossing, Permutt's play is one to treasure.

(Amanda Hodges)

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