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On Thursday 11th June, I attended the opening night of LUTG’s performance of The Lady in the Van. Written by Alan Bennett, this play is based on true events, with Miss Shepherd living in a van on Bennett’s driveway for fifteen years, until her death in 1989. Miss Shepherd is described as a highly religious ‘ex-nun’ with an unmistakable stench. LUTG’S cast of nine gave a professional, funny and moving performance.
For me, the first indication of the quality of the performance was the seamless interplay between the two Alans, with one serving as a narrator and the other depicting Bennett’s interactions with Miss Shepherd, both of whom sustained an accurate portrayal of Bennett’s character through use of mannerisms as well as tone and intonation. It was refreshing to see such interplay extend beyond the script, such as during difficulties in moving the van, helping avoid the awkwardness that can come with on-stage mishaps. All mishaps were dealt with professionally, such as the door falling off the van, and did not detract from the play.
A lot of the play’s humour and emotion can be attributed to the portrayal of Miss Shepherd, both through the timing with which her lines were delivered and her body language – marking her out, at times, as destitute and forgotten, yet in other instances, as confident and assertive. Seeing these two sides to Miss Shepherd made me genuinely care about her fate, aided by her depiction as elderly, thanks to excellent costume and make up.
In LUTG’s adaptation of The Lady in the Van, it was very easy for the audience to feel involved in the relationship between Bennett and Miss Shepherd and this is in part down to the creative use of limited space, such as Miss Shepherd moving through the audience at one point in the play, and also the general proximity of the cast and audience. The use of space in the performance was enhanced by use of lighting, which not only focused the audience’s attention but also allowed for the changing of scenery. Scenery in The Lady in the Van was minimal but effective, centring mostly around Bennett’s desk and Miss Shepherd’s van. LUTG’s attention to detail in terms of scenery does not go unnoticed, even down to the mattress and papers in the van and the typewriter and various mugs that accumulate on Bennett’s desk.
One feature that marked out this production from other versions I have seen is use of music, with a wide selection, spanning from classical piano to Morecambe and Wise’s ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. I felt the choice of music really added to the play, with the classical piano serving as a reminder of Miss Shepherd’s past as a talented pianist. Aside from music, the sound effects were fitting and generally well timed with only a few mistakes but that is to be expected on opening night.
Overall, LUTG gave a poignant yet funny representation of an incredibly well written play. This was the first LUTG production I have watched but certainly won’t be the last – the acting was excellent and I was very impressed with use of space, sound and scenery. I would go as far as to say that this is the best adaptation of The Lady in The Van I have seen.