Thursday, August 24, 2017

Don't blame Beckett

"Godot has a lot to answer for, attributing tramps with gnomic wisdom" complains Alan Bennett although admitting his legendary Lady in the Van has somehow "a vagabond nobility about her." Alan Bennett’s dramas gravitate frequently to ageing English ladies, giving voice to their genteel struggles in monologues like Cream Cracker under the Settee and A Woman of No Importance, and other poignant Talking Heads. Here the voice is more like Rod Hull’s Emu. Mary Shepherd is cantankerous, demanding, belligerent and malodorous, and she is real, having famously lived in the playwright’s front garden in posh Primrose Hill for fifteen years. Maggie Smith brought her antics to the screen and now Theatre Royal Bath concludes their summer season with a staged version of the story of  The Lady In The Van.
The playwright steps into this account himself not once but doubly, affable in the time-line of events and more caustic as retrospective observer and analyst. The film had the real Mr Bennett for this second role, so director Jonathan Church has had to make the best of this device, though it's hard not to wonder why we need a second, non-lookalike, Alan Bennett when we have a perfectly serviceable Alan Bennett on stage already. My other niggle with the script is that the connection between the disreputable old woman he tolerates in his life and the ageing mother he puts in a Home is so palpable and poignant that it's gratuitous to have it spelled out by Bennett-the-commentator.
As with all Theatre Royal productions, the cast is impressive: Sara Kestelman touching as well as terrifying as the irrational and tragic Lady, and Sam Alexander endearing as the hapless version of her patron. Minor characters are so steeped in parody it’s difficult to see them as other than 2-dimensional though Cat Simmons does a superb job with the social worker.  Designer Robert Innes Hopkins provides much to entertain visually, with an array of startling costumes and effective set and those total scene-stealers, the vehicles: that infamous van and, mysteriously, a scarlet Reliant, whose arrivals and (especially) departures are unforgettable high points.  Showing till 2 September. Images Nobby Clark

No comments: