The Lady in the Van
16th Nov 2016
Alan Bennett's Yorkshire humour is typically dour, his writing superb. In The Lady in the Van he observes and retells an episode from his life with a self deprecating modesty, and some (self confessed) fabrication. He did indeed invite an old lady to live on his drive in her van. He expected her to be there for a couple of months, she stayed for fifteen years.
Anne Cater is Miss Shepherd, the lady of the title. She looks every inch the part in her grubby mac and ludicrous hats and she plays the part to perfection. Turning on a sixpence from the irrascible, opinionated, immoveable enigma to the suddenly vulnerable, lost old lady and back again. She is a thorn in the side of Mr Bennett - an unwanted responsibility, yet one that he cannot shirk. Alan Bennett is played by two actors - the part calls for him to intereact with himself. As the timid and insecure Bennett (Sean Burnside) deals with his life, he talks to himself - his alter ego (Ian Willis) expresses the bold opinions that Alan is afraid to voice - the things he might think but is too polite, or too afraid, to say.
Miss Shepherd is a troubled lady, as Bennett is a troubled man. They each have their demons to deal with, as the play progresses snippets of Miss Shepherd's life are revealed, and we learn of the tragic events that have led to her current lifestyle and her fragile mental state. Bennett we see struggling with his own lack of confidence, and his troubled relationship with his mother.
The humour is undeniable - the situation only an englishman, and possibly only a yorkshireman could have written - but it is also a poignant commentry on society and religion, that a life so full of talent and intelligence could be so tragically changed.
Under the direction of Clive Hilton the People's Theatre have once again produced a great show. Great acting by an accomplished cast, a wonderful set (how did they get that van on stage?). I think Mr Bennett would approve.
The Lady in the Van runs till 19th Nov. I recommend it wholeheartedly.