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Play by Alan Bennett. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Design by Mark Thompson, Lighting by Hugh Vanstone and Sound by Scott Myers.
The Lady in The Van is about Miss Shepherd who lived in a van in Alan Bennett's street in Camden Town and who briefly parked her van in his garden - except that what he had intended as a short three month stay turned into one of 15 years....
The Lady in The Van stars Maggie Smith who was last seen in the West End in A Delicate Balance.
Cast stars Maggie Smith as 'Miss Shepherd', Nicholas Farell 'Alan Bennett' (the man) and Kevin McNally 'Alan Bennett' (the writer) and includes Michael Culkin, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Lorraine Brunning, Michael Poole and Elizabeth Bradley.
QUEEN'S Theatre Previewed 19 November, Opened 7 December 1999, Closed 15 July 2000
Extracts from the reviews:
"Alan Bennett's funny, rueful journal about Miss Shepherd, an elderly eccentric who lived in a van parked in his front garden for 15 years, is one of his finest pieces of prose. Adapting this short book for the stage looked a tricky proposition, however, even with the great Maggie Smith as the star. The journal is full of fleeting thoughts, fragments of speech and tiny anecdotes. It doesn't seem to have the narrative drive or the dramatic substance of a fully fledged play. That, however, is reckoning without the considerable subtlety and cunning of a writer who is nothing like as cosy as he sometimes pretends to be. This isn't just a play about Miss Shepherd, but a play about Alan Bennett himself, and a revealing one... The play works on three levels simultaneously: as a portrait of Miss Shepherd; as a portrait of Alan Bennett; and as a portrait of the artist who admits that old ladies are his "bread and butter". It asks tough questions about the way art feeds on life, and the way artists lie in the process of creation. Such a description makes The Lady in the Van sound daunting and difficult, but of course it isn't. Bennett is the most generously entertaining of writers, and as always the piece is packed with jokes... But it is also a play shot through with sadnesss. The strange life of Miss Shepherd is contrasted with the life of Bennett's mother, who in the course of the play becomes stricken with Alzheimer's and, to her son's considerable grief and guilt, is moved into a home... McNally and Farrell are superb as the two Bennetts, immediately persuading the audience to suspend its disbelief at their double imposture while brilliantly capturing the drama's bracing mix of wit, remorse, sadness and stimulating debate. This is, without doubt, the best new play of the year." The Daily Telegraph
"Maggie Smith plays Alan Bennett. The match, causing a stampede at the box office for the top play in the West End by many a length this year, is irresistible dramatic dynamite. Dame Maggie creates one of her greatest roles as Miss Shepherd, the filthy, old eccentric who camped in a disgusting Bedford van in Bennett's front garden in Camden Town for almost 20 years... The speech in which the Beethoven recordings in Bennett's study and the Beethoven of her truncated musical career collide is the heart- rending imaginative centre of Nicholas Hytner's superb production. Bennett's play becomes an act of relucant biographical retrieval, despite the interference of doctors and an earnest social worker. Miss Shepherd died ten years ago. Bennett has already memorialised her in his diaries. The play brings a sharper focus and a new dimension as Miss Shepherd competes with Bennett;s own Mam as an object of his dissaffection and guilt. And in writing himself, in two characters, into the play, Bennett finds a brilliant method of registering his ambivalent attitude as irately reluctant Good Samaritan and beady-eyed observer... A wonderful evening at the Camden follies is designed by Mark Thompson and graced, in grime and grimace, by the incomparable Dame Maggie." The Daily Mail
"...It's frequently funny, piognant and well steered by director Nicholas Hytner but, frankly, it's got more padding than a prize Bentley. Bennett has written himself into the play twice, so you get two identically-dressed actors on stage impersonating him, Nicholas Farrell and Kevin McNally are both excellent. One voices the honest guilt of the stinking lady's put-upon neighbour, the other the parasitic thoughts of a writer who sniffs good copy, but it's a cumbersome double act. Maggie Smith - with her splayed walk and batty non-sequiturs - is a joy, but essentially she's a funny turn, little more. The appearances of cartoonish neighbours, a cliched social worker should put people off Camden forever. At its best the van lady's enigmatic past as a failed nun and a pianist is exquisitely revealed by Maggie Smith who conjures laughs out of thin air. Enjoyable, quaffable entertainment for sure. But it's not vintage Bennett." The Express
"We've met her in book, magazine and radio form. What can the stage add to Alan Bennett's now famous saga of Miss Shepherd, who lived in a van in his front garden for the best part of 15 years? Principally it can add Maggie Smith, who plays this cantankerous eccentric with an honesty and truth that makes it her best and most disciplined performance in many years... Miss Shepherd, with her peremptoriness, her pong and her crazed piety, is the evening's ostensible protagonist. But the play becomes a public self-examination in which Bennett, simultaneously coping with his increasingly incapacitated mother, asks why his life is dominated by elderly women. But while the double narration embodies Bennett's own condition of existing permanently in two minds, it is not quite enough to give the evening a strong dramatic dynamic. If the play is below the level of Bennett's vintage best, it is largely because the questions its prompts are all inherent in the original journal. But there is still great pleasure to be had from watching Smith's performance... In Nicholas Hytner's well-ordered production the two Bennetts are also well played. Michael Culkin and Geraldine Fitzgerald do all they can with a pair of variably sympathetic neighbours but the evening chiefly leaves you admiring Maggie Smith and Bennett's own self-questioning spirit." The Guardian