A brand new production of Alan Bennett’s wonderfully funny and poignant drama The Lady in the Van has opened at the Theatre Royal Bath where it will run until Saturday 2nd September as part of the 2017 Summer Season. Award-winning Sara Kestelman stars as one of drama’s most extraordinary characters as she plays the eccentric Miss Shepherd, directed by Jonathan Church CBE.
When a decrepit Bedford van grinds to a halt opposite Alan Bennett’s house in Camden Town in 1974, little does the writer suspect that its next parking place will be his own garden, where its evil-smelling occupant is to remain for a further fifteen years. The genuinely eccentric Miss Shepherd used to drive ambulances in the war, has an unexplained aversion to piano music, may have been a nun, and is described by the author as “a bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-centred, rank, rude, car-mad cow”. This witty and uplifting comedy tells the intriguing true story of Alan Bennett’s unusual neighbour. Forced to turn down his music to her complaints, recharge her van’s flat battery and become her reluctant carer, Bennett uses his vivid observations to create a heart-warming play full of great one-liners.
Sara Kestelman is one of the greatest actors of her generation, currently working at the absolute pinnacle of her extraordinary talent. Her recent performance in Filthy Business at Hampstead Theatre received superlative reviews. In a distinguished career spanning fifty years, Sara has played a plethora of leading roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and in the West End. She won the Olivier Award as Fraulein Schneider in Sam Mendes’s production of Cabaret, and has also starred in the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, The Threepenny Opera, Coco, and recently created the role of Jessie in Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s The Girls. She played Titania and Hippolyta in Peter Brook’s landmark 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the RSC, in the West End and in New York, and created the role of Margrethe Bohr in Michael Frayn’s award-winning Copenhagen, which toured to Bath. Most recently on television her work includes ITV’s Maigret in Montmartre and From There to Here and the BAFTA winning In the Flesh, both for the BBC. Dating back to the 1960s her numerous screen credits include roles in Holby City, Rome, Anna Karenina, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Trial & Retribution, Casualty, Kavanagh QC, Crown Court, Bergerac, The New Avengers and Dixon of Dock Green. Her film credits include Lady Jane, Zardoz and Lisztomania. Sara is also a published poet and songwriter, and performs her one-woman show All About Me! internationally.
Sara makes a welcome return to Bath’s Theatre Royal where she has previously performed in Another Time with Albert Finney in 1989; The Cabinet Minister with Maureen Lipman and Derek Nimmo in 1991; Three Tall Women with Maggie Smith and Samantha Bond in 1995; Copenhagen with Matthew Marsh in 1998; Hamlet in 2001, in which she played Gertrude alongside Simon Russell Beale in the title role; and most recently, 4,000 Miles, which received its UK premiere at the Ustinov Studio in 2013, before transferring to The Print Room in London.
Of course The Lady in the Van would not be complete without Alan Bennett himself – or rather the two Alan Bennetts who appear in this play, portrayed by actors Sam Alexander and James Northcote.
Sam Alexander was seen at the start of Bath’s 2017 Summer Season as The Reverend Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon in Racing Demon. His previous stage work includes One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre and in the West End; Much Ado About Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost in the West End; Wild Oats and Does My Society Look Big in This? at Bristol Old Vic and seasons at both the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe. His screen credits include Call the Midwife, 45 Years, Wolf Hall, Doctors and Casualty.
James Northcote, who hails from Taunton, has recently been seen on television playing the roles of Aldhelm in The Last Kingdom and John Spode in SS-GB. His film credits include The Imitation Game, A United Kingdom and Belle. On stage, he previously worked with Jonathan Church at Chichester Festival Theatre when he appeared in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
William Gaunt, who plays the role of Underwood, has worked extensively on stage and screen in a career spanning six decades. Previously at the Theatre Royal Bath, he has appeared in Murder by Misadventure in 1992 and The Miracle Worker in 1994 in the Main House, and in Exit the King at Ustinov Studio in 2014. His recent theatre credits include Strife at Chichester Festival Theatre, Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe, The Crucible at the Old Vic Theatre and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in West End and at Chichester. William won the 2011 Clarence Derwent Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Henry IV Parts One and Two at Shakespeare’s Globe. He has also appeared in The Cherry Orchard with Diana Rigg at Chichester; King Lear and The Seagull with Ian McKellen for the RSC in Stratford, London and on world tour; Stephen Daldry’s multi award-winning An Inspector Calls in the West End; Look Back in Anger with Michael Sheen; and many productions at the National Theatre. Since the early 1960s, William’s countless television roles have seen him co-star as Andrew alongside Penelope Keith in BBC’s Next of Kin; he created the role of Arthur Crabtree, the long-suffering father in No Place Like Home alongside Patricia Garwood; and played Richard Barrett in The Champions.
The cast also features Emma Amos as Pauline, Paul Hickey as Rufus, Gabrielle Lloyd as Mam, David Shaw Parker as Mam’s Doctor and Leo Fairchild, Lia Burge as Interviewer and Doctor, Steve Simmonds as Ambulance Driver and Cat Simmons as Social Worker.
Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Bath’s Summer Seasons, Jonathan Church is acclaimed for his exceptional work at Chichester Festival Theatre, where he oversaw over 100 productions and was awarded a CBE in 2015, as well as his work in the West End and internationally. His most recent production, Racing Demon, which opened Bath’s 2017 Summer Season was praised by critics and audiences alike.
Alan Bennett has been a household name for more than forty years. His reputation as the master of observation and brilliant comic phrasing was sealed with his series of ground-breaking Talking Heads, originally filmed for television. One of the most distinctive voices in British theatre, his plays also include Single Spies, Enjoy, Forty Years On, Habeas Corpus and The Lady in the Van which was recently made into a film. His hit play The Madness of George III was also made into film, The Madness of King George, which won two BAFTAs and was Oscar-nominated. The stage play was successfully revived in Bath in 2011 and transferred to the West End. His drama The History Boys won no less than 30 major awards and was made into a film in 2005. His most recent successes on stage at the National Theatre include The Habit of Art and People.
The Lady in the Van appears at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 2nd September. Tickets are available from the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 and online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk