Powerhouse performance in Hull Truck revival
Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett – Theatre Royal Bath
This much talked about revival of Hull Truck Company’s original production to celebrate its 40th anniversary is full of the production genius we have grown to expect from them.
It would be easy to think that it is all an urban tale, a lady who lives in a van parks outside the home of Alan Bennett and subsequently moves into his garden and the 3 month agreements turns into a 15 year relationship. But the circumstances are absolutely true, the script nods to which episodes fall into artistic license and the audience are led, through a series of episodes chartering key points in the lives of both Bennett and Miss. Shepherd; the latter of whom battles with inner demons; guilt from an earlier accident, her life as an ambulance driver during the war, the torment from a Convent and the acknowledgement that she could have been a concert pianist.
Nicola McAuliffe is totally hypnotic, her ageing process utterly believable and whilst we listen to her deluded ramblings the control of the script is magical. McAuliffe is a confirmed expert of comedy and her expert timing draws further empathy from us and her decline into the inevitable end is totally compelling. This is no doubt a powerhouse of a performance and a master class for anyone who considers themselves a performer.
As the script is written by Bennett, it is easier to accept the two representations of Bennett on stage – both Sean McKenzie and Paul Kemp are visual excellent as the familiar Bennett. They interact with each other and the rest of the company in their dialogue one challenges the other. One is a timid, quiet, non confrontational Bennett, the other an angry, critical slightly resentful Bennett. The script hints at the self critical Bennett, his jokes about Joe Orton’s writing also pertinent and witty.
The play is episodic and Miss. Shepherd remains a total enigma, we don’t really learn a great deal about Bennett the man either but this does not distract from a beautiful production; the wonderful van / vans are magical centre pieces.
The rest of the company play many roles effortlessly from sympathetic if slightly relieved neighbours to a greatly observed social worker.
The staging, lighting, direction all fit seamlessly together, the skilful direction from Sarah Esdaile allowing the journey to flow smoothly, the energy and interaction on stage set against the static van keeps the pace alive and we are drawn into such an extraordinary moment in the life of a “celebrity” and a “lady in a van” The exceptional show of generosity from Bennett – not many people I know would do the same, is an unexplored avenue. Maybe they just fit together their coexistence giving each other an identity.
The tour ends this Saturday, a triumph for Hull Truck once again.
Performances continue until Saturday www.theatreroyal.org.uk 01225 448844