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The Lady in the Van (tour – Watford)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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As Hull Truck’s touring productions go, this is an elaborate one. Alan Bennett’s wry take on the woman who parked herself and a succession of dilapidated vehicles in his front garden is a tragedy as well as a very funny play. Director Sarah Esdaile allows for these two aspects to confront each othert but never to collide.

The setting by Ben Stones which confronts us as we enter the auditorium is a stark one – black bricks, a curtained Edwardian bay window, a desk with two identical chairs, a dustbin. Then Miss Shepherd disentangles herself from a rubbish-heap, the author-narrator splits into two identical actors and the vans begin their trundle onstage.

It’s all superbly acted with Nichola McAuliffe dominating as the sad derelict with a blighted past – the perhaps wrongly-thwarted vocations to be first a concert pianist then a nun – as she alternatively fascinates and repels all those with whom she comes into contact. While Bennett has great fun at the expense of his champagne-socialist neighbours and the so-called caring professions, he doesn’t flinch from examining his own failings.

This is where Paul Kemp} and [James Holmes make their mark as Alan 1 and 2. The son aware that he has exceeded his parents’ aspirations in many ways but equally accepting that he deliberately by-passes his obligations mirrors the creative artist who sees everyone (himself included) as “copy”. Both Holmes and Kemp make these dual aspects credible. Not necessarily likeable, but completely believable in this context.

Emma Gregory and Benedict Sandiford are Bennett’s neighbours with Fiz Marcus as his mother, flapping helplessly as she tries to tidy her son’s lifestyle and cope with her own memory loss. Tina Gambe plays well-meaning authority and Martin Wimbush someone who is altogether more sinister. Miss Shepherd was more than a woman of mystery. She was the agonised guardian of truths.


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