Miriam Margolyes bustles about the stage like a demented doll in The Lady in the Van, bossing and bellowing at her reluctant and conflicted 'neighbour', Alan Bennett - or is he her ‘host’?
In his play, directed here by Dean Bryant, Bennett depicts himself as two separate aspects of his character: Alan Bennett 1 (Daniel Frederikson) who reluctantly allows this recalcitrant, old lady to park her equally scruffy van in his garden indefinitely and assists her with letter writing and numerous complaints against the society on the fringes of which she dwells. Alan Bennett 2 (James Millar), dressed identically to his doppelganger, scribbles in his notebook, journalising every eccentric activity of his malodorous subject whose name, she says, is Miss Mary Shepherd. Margolyes' performance is bold, vigorous and comical, and intermittently reveals a vulnerability that allows us to see the inner turmoil and fractured mind of this peculiar, former nun who lives in her squalid van but still clings to a thread of dignity. Miriam Margolyes Bennett's characters and narrative gently raise issues of tolerance, community spirit and the failures of the social welfare system, while the middle class characters, Pauline (Fiona Choi) and Rufus (Dalip Sondhi) pretend to be liberal and spout sympathetic, lefty rhetoric while shunning the lady in the van. The cast is strong, however the episodic structure and lack of depth of most characters, apart from Miss Shepherd, make the play feel like it skims across the surface of the story. The staging cunningly creates a sense of location by sliding chairs, fences and even vans on and off stage on invisible tracks, but this device becomes distracting. The Lady in the Van is a gentle, funny and sometimes moving story about a woman whose life should have gone along another track and it reminds us that we are becoming a less caring community that needs to assist and provide for its more vulnerable members. by Kate Herbert
Posted : 7th February 2019