“The Lady in the Van” – A Louth Playgoers Riverhead Theatre Production

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When I saw that Louth Playgoers were putting on a production of “The Lady in the Van” I was really pleased to see something a bit different to the usual performances that seem to come up in local theatres.  I’d seen the film with Dame Maggie Smith last year, and loved the story, so was very interested to see how this would work in theatre.  Would there be an actual van on stage?  How would the sets work?  Well I wasn’t disappointed!

The production, Written by Alan Bennett and Directed by Susan Hewer, worked really well on stage. The set design, by John Hollingsworth was very well thought out, the little windows in Alan Bennett’s office in Camden, the garden fence (ivy included), the gate, the houses across the street, all added to the feeling of looking in on a private driveway, people watching.

Susan Hewer, in the Director’s Notes in the programme, says ‘The play is both funny and sad, provocative and uplifting, being a blend of unbelievable truths as we are drawn into Miss Shepherd’s world of experiences”  She’s right, and with the addition of the dual roles of Alan Bennett, (dressed identically, with the same mannerisms and accents) really had us drawn into his life, his feelings towards his own mam, and the way he felt about Miss Shepherd.

From the moment Linda Goodman Powell, who played Miss Shepherd, shuffled on stage in her untidy mac and Nora Batty stockings, I knew we were going to have a few laughs…  She brought ‘Miss Shepherd’ to life in her own way; beautifully portrayed mannerisms, wonderful facial expressions and brilliant accent, bouncing off both Alan Bennett’s in humour and in her own cantankerous way.  The Alan Bennett’s were played by Andy De Renzi (Alan Bennett 1) and Derek Le Page (Alan Bennett 2).  Both Alan’s did extremely well, bringing their own portrayal of either the physical or the psychological characters to life;  and considering all three main parts had seemingly hours of dialogue, monologues and soliloquies, it’s no wonder they had to receive some cue’s from the prompter (Christine Raithby) from time to time.

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I enjoyed seeing a few familiar faces on stage from previous Louth Playgoers performances, including Rufus, the neighbour played by James Burgess;  who along with his stage wife, Pauline, played by Laura Martin, really highlighted the difficulties people must have experienced when faced with this type of situation.

Alan Bennett’s mam, played by Pamela Whalley, portrayed the mam beautifully, initially a happy, caring mother, but later, more reserved and worried; she really did show the different characteristics.

I really loved the way the sound and lighting designers and operators manipulated the lighting between scenes.  The programme tells us the music in the production was from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, op. 90, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, op. 78 and J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor, the Kyrie and the Gloria.  The rest of the music had been special composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage which really added a special something to the performances.

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I can’t mention everyone who was involved, but the rest of the cast did really well, especially those playing multiple roles.  Special mention must also go to the Stage Manager (and controller of The Van! – Tony Blackmore – wow ‘The Van’s’… red, and ‘crushed mimosa’ and even the mop head brush!).  Also need to say really well done for the set build, taking the set designs and making them a reality, Alan Fisher and Team.  The costumes and props also need to be highlighted; Ashley Stevens and John Hallam were responsible for the props and Barbara Vickers, Fern Garland and Pat Fisher for the costumes.  There were a few characters with a variety of costumes but Miss Shepherd’s range of outfits were brilliant…  I loved the whole look, the hats, the bags, the carriers, just her look – it was genius, well done!

Thanks for a good night out, and in the words of the lady I met at the bar before the show started who had never been to the Riverhead Theatre before, “What a beautiful theatre, and a wonderful variety of shows, we should come more often, we only live round the corner”.

There are tickets still available for tonight (Friday 14th April) and tomorrow (Saturday 15th April) so if you can, go along and support, it’s a fabulous story!

Click Here for tickets and more information on other shows coming up!

Thanks to Lesley Jane Mitchell and Jack Lovett for the photographs.

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