Review: The Lady in the Van

Nichola McAuliff in The Lady In The Van
Nichola McAuliff in The Lady In The Van
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There’s something very special about Alan Bennett’s writing.

He can elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary, endow the everyday into the once in a lifetime and inject a rare importance into the seemingly mundane. You can hear his measured but distinctive Yorkshire tone in everything he writes and in the case of this stage adaptation of his book, you hear it twice.

The Lady is the enigmatic “unbalanced” (a polite word for “mad”) Miss Shepherd, the van is any one of the succession of derelict vehicles she called home – originally on the street outside but for 15 years in the garden of Alan Bennett, and the two versions of himself are the writer fusing fiction and fact into a piece of literature, the character faced with the dilemma of an uninvited permanent guest with scant regard for personal hygiene and the Bennett we all think of as real but is just as much a creation as the dramatis personae in his work.

That’s three Bennetts? Well, life’s never as simple as it appears is it?

It’s a tour de force welcome home for St Annes actor Sean McKenzie as the writing Bennett (complete with near perfect accent and terrific one liners) and a similar success for Paul Kemp as the more real deal – torn between the two very different old ladies in his life (Mam Bennett is fading into Alzheimer’s and death).

But the night truly belongs to Nichola McAuliffe who is majestic as Miss Shepherd, the larger than life inspiration for the piece, making her way through with equal parts madness, wisdom and ingratitude.

Grand Theatre, Blackpool