Category Archives: Reviews

The Lady in the Van

★★★½

Theatre Royal Windsor

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 27th October 2020

★★★½

 

“From the very first scene it’s plain just how wonderful Bennett’s writing is”

 

For its latest Covid-secure performance since reopening, Theatre Royal Windsor is this week staging Alan Bennett’s ‘The Lady in the Van’ which is presented by a cast of eight, reading from scripts behind microphones on stands. This forms part of their four latest ‘Windsor on Air’ shows.

The opening night crowd was good, with rigorous precautions ensuring their saftey.

‘She came for three weeks – she stayed for 15 years’. This film tagline describes Alan Bennett’s real life relationship with an elderly ex-convent novitiate and bag lady who took up residence in a mimosa-painted van on his front garden. Miss Shepherd was a less than fragrant woman of mystery, who increasingly came to dominate his existence up to her death in 1989.

The playwright (who is himself an actor) appears twice as a character in this piece, which was first published in prose the year of Miss Shepherd’s death. That Bennett is a ‘national treasure’ is entirely a truism, but the line deservedly reflects his droll way with words and his huge success with ‘The Lady’ and others including ‘The History Boys’, ‘Talking Heads’, ‘The Madness of King George III’ and ‘Habeas Corpus’.

It must be daunting for any performer who is asked to walk in the footsteps of either Bennett or another treasure, Dame Maggie Smith, who portrayed Miss Shepherd so memorably in the 2015 film. David Horovitch is the younger Alan – a name that “has as much flavour as a pebble”. He has some nice interplay with his older self who is writing the piece for us. RADA trained Matthew Cottle gives an uncannily good impersonation and both have accent and delivery just right. Jenny Seagrove did not reference Dame Maggie, but gave her own tremulous voiced and feisty interpretation of the part.

From the very first scene it’s plain just how wonderful Bennett’s writing is. But in this radio studio style performance, with the cast glued to microphone stands and their scripts, it all starts to get just a little bit samey by the end of the first half. The sparkling dry quips seem to pepper almost every speech, and I felt that on this particular opening night, the ensemble weren’t quite gelling as they should.

Things get better after the interval when some of the mystery about Miss Shepherd is revealed. Martin Carroll does sterling service as the Foley man (sound effects artist). Other cast members – Sara Crowe, Ashley D Gayle, Elizabeth Counsell (a memorable Mam) and Alan Howell all have their moments in the story. Roy Marsden directs this pleasant entertainment.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Simon Vail

 


The Lady in the Van

Theatre Royal Windsor until 31st October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Trials Of Oscar Wilde | ★★★★ | March 2019
Octopus Soup! | ★★½ | April 2019
The Mousetrap | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Nutcracker | ★★★★ | November 2019
What’s In A Name? | ★★★★ | November 2019
Ten Times Table | ★★★★ | January 2020
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story | ★★★★ | February 2020
The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson | ★★★½ | February 2020
The Black Veil | ★★★ | March 2020
Love Letters | ★★★★ | October 2020

 

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Lone Flyer

Lone Flyer

★★★★

Watermill Theatre

Lone Flyer

Lone Flyer

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 24th October 2020

★★★★

 

“The Watermill once again proves it deserves its long held reputation for inventive productions with this pacey and enchanting show”

 

The magic of theatre lives on at the second indoor show staged post-lockdown by the Watermill Theatre at Newbury. This socially distanced two-hander is another creative success for the celebrated theatre which is buried deep in the rustic Berkshire countryside.

This revival of Ade Morris’s affectionate tribute to the first woman to fly the Pacific alone is told as a series of entertaining vignettes taken from the life of the pioneering Hull-born aviatrix, played by Hannah Edwards with an engaging radiance. Her shining characterisation of the determined young flyer has a winning quality which is well-matched by the performance of Benedict Salter (billed just as ‘The Man’) who zippily takes on some nine or so supporting roles, including a head scarf-wearing landlady and Amy’s dashing husband Jim Mollison. He also plays a kind of painful threnody on the ‘cello which makes a bridge between the lighter episodes and the airborne unravelling which leads to her end.

Together the two performers give a fascinating portrayal of what it was to be the world’s first celebrity flying couple, who could expect crowds eight deep when they flew in after each new pioneering airborne achievement.

The prelude to Amy Johnson’s tragic end on a relatively mundane flight from Prestwick to Oxford in January 1941 forms the backbone of the show which benefits from a nicely nuanced stage and lighting design (Isobel Nicholson and Harry Armytage). The stage is not quite a black box but rather one of confining grey brick walls out of which Amy must climb to find her angels up in the sky. Amy’s aeroplane is evoked by a cleverly simple wheeled trolley which also serves as a typewriter carriage in a scene about her unhappy time in a typing pool.

A powerful soundtrack and some smart sound design (Jamie Kubisch-Wiles and Thom Townsend) both contribute to the success of the show.

As Director Lucy Betts comments in the programme, Amy Johnson was a beacon of hope, not just for the women that were able to follow her example but also for all who were inspired by her ability to pursue her dreams to the very end.

The Watermill once again proves it deserves its long held reputation for inventive productions with this pacey and enchanting show.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Lone Flyer

Watermill Theatre until 21st November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | May 2019
Assassins | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Wicker Husband | ★★★★★ | March 2020

 

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