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Review: The Lady In The Van – Electric Theatre

Published on: 4 May, 2017
Updated on: 6 May, 2017

by Tricia Marcotti

I will declare that I have seen the movie. That being said, I have never before last night seen the play that the movie was based on.

The Lady in the Van, presented by the Guildburys Theatre Company, is at the Electric Theatre until Saturday, May 6.

The director, Eddie Woolrich, and the set designer, Robert Sheppard, have made the most of the available space the Electric Theatre has to offer.

All the necessary items for the play to succeed were well spaced on the stage allowing the actors room to move without tripping over the large yellow (crushed mimosa) van which spent most of the play clearly visible to all.

It created an atmosphere which fortunately did not smell as the dialogue informed us the original van did.

The play splits Alan Bennett in two – yes, quite literally. Two actors, Maxwell Hayes and Andy Wiggins have the task of relaying the complete personality of Alan to the audience.

It was a little disconcerting to see a young man talking to an older man knowing they were the same person, but when I closed my eyes during one of their interactions, I did feel that they were as one.

The younger actor, Andy, played the public Alan, while Maxwell played the private Alan. Between the two, a complete Alan Bennett was portrayed.

ladyinvan two alans

Public Alan talks to private Alan in The Lady In A Van at the Electric Theatre. Picture by Kevin Malam.

The Lady in the Van, aka Mary Shepherd, capably played by Diane Nichols, was full of bravado, and yet, at times came across as vulnerable that you couldn’t help but be sorry for her. Quite a mystery woman, Miss Shepherd occasionally let fall snippets of her past to Alan.

This part, was truly the heaviest undertaking by a single actor, as there was so little time when Miss Shepherd was not on stage. Diane played the part very well indeed. The costume mistress, Catherine Smart and the Guildford College hairstylists are to be commended for their part in ensuring Diane looked like a lady in a van!

ladyinvan and alan

Miss Shepherd and Alan discussing whether her crushed mimosa Robin Reliant can be parked alongside the van. Picture by Kevin Malam.

Alan’s neighbours, Pauline (played by Gilly Fick) and Rufus, (read by Graham Russell-Price), started the play by wanting rid of Miss Shepherd. By the play’s end, they had come round to the idea of having her as a neighbour.

Graham took over the part which was to have been played by Kim Ferguson, who had to withdraw just before curtain up last night. For all that he was reading, Graham quickly made us treat his script as a piece of stage furniture.

The parts of Alan’s mam and Miss Shepherd’s sister were played by Barbara Tresider. Small parts, but necessary to the viewer’s understanding of the play as a whole, Barbara was believable in both roles.

While there was a large amount of pathos about during the evening, there were also times of hilarity. This is not a tragedy to be avoided, but a slice of life to be savoured.

lady in van 1

Miss Shepherd contemplating life in her van. Picture by Kevin Malam.

I recommend this play.

Tickets are available at the Electric Theatre box office, online at www.guildford.gov.uk/electrictheatre, or by phone on 01483 444789.

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