Theatre Review - The Lady In The Van – Southport Dramatic Club – Little Theatre, Southport - Friday 20th September, 2013

The Lady In The Van – Southport Dramatic Club

The Lady In The Van – Southport Dramatic Club - Credit: Southport Dramatic Club

Rob Gemmell takes in a Southport Dramatic Club production of the Alan Bennett play where the starring prop is a 1980’s Daihatsu minivan.

Alan Bennett is probably one of the most well-known and well-loved British playwrights of our time. He has written countless memorable plays during a career that has spanned nearly six decades and sometimes, for someone like Alan Bennett, the stories end up finding him.

In 1974 a lady called Miss Shepherd drove her van into Alan Bennetts’ garden and stayed there…

…for fifteen years.

Bennett was often asked during Miss Shepherd’s stay in his garden whether he was going to write a play about her and its one line in the play that was later cut from the final draft which sums up his response “How can I write about her? She’s there.” It didn’t stop him making notes and observations regarding her behaviour and endeavours during her time there and twenty five years later the play was written.

Originally due to be a three Act play The Lady in the Van has been sized into two and there are three key moments of the story that Bennett has captured throughout the play. Life when we first meet Miss Shepherd, her stay during the fifteen years and the latter part of her life.

The play features Alan Bennett himself in two guises. There is the Alan Bennett and there is the other Alan Bennett, his subconscious if you please, that narrates key points of the story as a form of memoir or recollection. The play has been cleverly written to incorporate Bennett’s thoughts and feelings at the time as well as the inclusion of situations that may not have happened, but is played out humorously to the audience anyway.

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Steve Pritchard has taken the directorial duties on Southport Dramatic Club’s version of the play with dedication and determination and has produced a breath-taking, incredibly well produced story that left very few seats empty in the auditorium.

Brendan Gillow and Ted Bullen portray the roles of the two Alan Bennett’s. Brendan Gillow is the Alan Bennett and his warm character has absorbed the dry, timid nature of Bennett himself in a truly captivating performance. The Yang to Gillow’s Ying comes in the form of Ted Bullen who portrays Alan Bennett 2, if you like. The thoughts and mind of Bennett captured in an almost like for like appearance of the Bennett, but one that performs on the boundaries of Bennett’s inner dialogue and does not converse with other actors. The combination of the two actors weighs up brilliantly as they play off each other.

A strong supporting cast featuring Margaret Hodge, Nick Lloyd, Ceri Watkins and Nikki Ritchie all perform their roles well to enhance the vision of the story, but it is the leading lady herself, Kathy Felton-Aksoy, who performs the role of Miss Shepherd with such exuberance she truly captures the eccentricity of the lady in a role that is nothing short of brilliant. Her comic timing and delivery were compelling, her warmth and passion in dedication to the role were scintillating and the balance of emotions was extremely moving. You could hear a pin drop during her monologues as the attention of the audience was solely on her.

Southport Dramatic Club have spared no expense in the Production of The Lady In The Van and have shown the true commitment of the theatre with the starring prop of the show being a 1980’s Daihatsu minivan that is wheeled on during the middle part of the first act which becomes the centre of attention. Coupled with a cameo performance from a battered red Robin Reliant the group have really gone to town on producing an utterly, wonderful and truly professional show which is summed up beautifully in the poignant final scenes. A performance that I am sure will do the Bennett’s proud!

The show is on at the Little Theatre, Southport until September 28th. Curtain up at 7:45pm

For further information regarding the Southport Dramatic group you can visit their website at - @RobGemmell1