Tag Archives: Roy Marsden

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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Love Letters

Love Letters

★★★★

Theatre Royal Windsor

Love Letters

Love Letters

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 13th October 2020

★★★★

 

“Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove are perfectly cast for this agreeably wry game of theatrical tennis”

 

Windsor’s Theatre Royal successfully re-opened last night with A.R. Gurney’s gentle hit ‘Love Letters’ starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove. The affection in which this lovely old theatre is held locally was evident in the warm reception given to Producer Bill Kenwright as he paid tribute to the team behind the show and welcomed the audience back. He also announced ‘Windsor on Air’ – a new season of radio style one week runs which includes hits like ‘The Lady in the Van’ and Tom Conti and Felicity Kendal in ‘Lloyd George Knew my Father’. A comprehensive set of measures ensure audience safety, including serving drinks to your seat.

‘Love Letters’ began in 1988 as an epistolatory novel, but it soon became a big Broadway hit. It’s a play which ‘needs no theatre, no special set, no memorization of lines’. The two characters sit at desks at 60 degrees to each other and read letters and cards which chart a half century of hectic and privileged East Coast American living. A glittering roster of past performers has included the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston, Ali MacGraw – and even Larry Hagman.

At its soft heart the play is about maintaining togetherness through separation, as childhood sweethearts stay close by correspondence, as their lives dramatically diverge. Only in the last, poignant moments does one character finally look at the other.

Martin Shaw (‘Judge John Deed’ and many others) and Jenny Seagrove (‘Peak Practice’, ‘Judge John Deed’, the film ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’ and much more) are perfectly cast for this agreeably wry game of theatrical tennis. The writing is excellent, particularly in the second half, when the pair of elementary students grow into adults. She is a ‘lascivious old dame’ and he a ‘shifty [but very successful] bastard’. His dogged defence of the power of letter-writing gets gently patted back by her one-liners and aching silences.

Roy Marsden directs this bittersweet and delightful Pulitzer-listed comedy with a light touch.

 

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography Simon Vail

 


Love Letters

Theatre Royal Windsor until 17th October

 

Previously reviewed by David:
Assassins | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | September 2019
The Mousetrap | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | October 2019
The Nutcracker | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | November 2019
What’s In A Name? | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | November 2019
Ten Times Table | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | January 2020
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | February 2020
The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson | ★★★½ | Theatre Royal Windsor | February 2020
The Black Veil | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | March 2020
The Wicker Husband | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | March 2020
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde | ★★★★★ | Wilde Theatre | September 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews