The Lady in the Van
by Alan Bennett
Hull Truck Theatre with Richard Jordan Productions
at Alhambra Theatre, Bradford (until 16 July)
Heart-warming, Heart-breaking Tale of Two (Sometimes Three)
Insights into Bennett as a writer and Bennett as a man are achieved through the reluctant development of his relationship with the lady who lives in the van, and his pithy remarks as he tells the tale now, as well as his interacting with Miss Shepherd in the past: “Were I a proper writer I would welcome such an experience, as it is I keep contact with creatures to a minimum”.
Kemp and Holmes capture Bennett perfectly just as he talks and gesture in interviews. McAuliffe’s portrayal of Miss Shepherd allows the audience to be amused, feel warmth for her, whilst understanding Bennett’s reluctance to let her in. Some of the chores he undertakes for her and how he defends her really shines a new light upon him, and we don’t just see him as the grumpy, miserable misanthrope he seems to want to portray himself as. Most poignant when he tells the stereotypical North London middle-class “liberal” neighbours of his: “I see her. You don’t”.
As well as the developing relationship between Miss Shepherd and Bennett (with great reluctance on his part), we catch a glimpse of the relationship between Bennett and his mother: “What memory was to Proust, the lavatory is to my mum”. And then the interesting interactions between the two Bennetts – sometimes surreal, sometimes funny but always with characteristic acerbic wit.
Hats off to the set and costume designer for Gloucester Crescent in Camden, the van in the garden and Bennett at his desk are all visualised by superb set design: the floating brick wall with Bennett’s house hovering above the ground allowing switching between Bennett the writer (narrating the story) and the Bennett interacting with Miss Shepherd years ago.
Costume design emulates the look of the real Alan Bennett complete with corduroys, green tie and pullover. Miss Shepherd’s fascination with “crushed mimosa” (or scrambled egg colour according to Bennett) is highlighted by the very yellow van against the general darkness of the set.
Miss Shepherd: Nichola McAuliffe
Alan 1: Paul Kemp
Alan 2: James Holmes
Social worker/Interviewer/Lout: Tina Gambe
Pauline/Mam’s Doctor: Emma Gregory
Mam/Priest: Fiz Marcus
Rufus/Lout: Benedict Sandiford
Fairchild/Underwood/Ambulance Driver: Martin Wimbush
Director: Sarah Esdaile
Set and Costume: Ben Stones
Lighting: Chris Davey
Sound: Peter Rice
Composer: Simon Slater
Assistant Director: Katie Henry
Casting: Kay Magson