Lady in the Van - performed March 2017
By Alan Bennett
Performed with the kind permission of Samuel French
Director - Kerry KingThis has been an exciting project for a director, as producing something that is based on a true story always adds an exciting dynamic.
Although the time scale is over a fifteen year period, Alan Bennett has not really highlighted this to a great degree. I suspect that this was because for him, days turned into weeks, then into months and finally years!
He wrote The Lady in the Van featuring two Alan Bennetts. This was because he saw himself as an ‘Alan’ that dealt with this awkward, demanding woman whilst the other Alan watched him and wrote everything down. He said in an interview that this was how it actually felt!
We were privileged to receive a good luck card from Alan which read:
To the Manifest Theatre, Manningtree. This is to wish you all the very best with your production of The Lady in the Van. Miss S’s van must once have been as smart as this but I never saw it in that sort of trim & nor did she! I hope you are enjoying doing the play and that the audience will too Good Luck Alan BennettI would like to thank everyone personally that has been involved in this Production as it has been as challenging as Miss Shepherd was to the author. So, to reiterate Alan Bennett’s words, I hope that you, our audience enjoy our version of the ‘Lady in the Van’.
Cast(in order of appearance)
Production TeamKerry King, Jude Hussey, Bruce Emeny, George Sykes, Andy Terry, Ben Graham, Derek Butcher, Gloria Streames, Andy Terry, Nigel Rowe and Derek Butcher Yvonne Cobbold, Karen Baker, Jacquie Terry and Val Taylor Alan Wheeler, Patience Ling, Viv Wheatley, Amanda & Nigel Rowe, Steve Sadler and other volunteers not mentioned.
Additional thanks to
Awards & Nominations
The PlayThe Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her van in the driveway of his Camden home, 23 Gloucester Crescent. This was only supposed to be for a month or so but she actually stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild, a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played the piano in a classical promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.
“No one knew her well,” said Alan Bennett of the lady who lived for 15 years in a van outside his house. “Even I didn’t know her well. But I knew what she was like.” The lady in the van had no friends, but she did have a neighbour, and that neighbour was a writer.
“In real life,” said Bennett, “the only subject that interested anyone was Miss Shepherd’s ‘sanitary arrangements’. It was really a question of plastic bags,” he said, “Stout ones.” Very occasionally, she would use Bennett’s loo, which he would spend hours disinfecting afterwards. As he wrote in his original memoirs, “It was here on the threshold of the toilet that my charity stopped short”. In any case, she evoked mixed feelings all the time: “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.”
Miss Shepherd had such strong political opinions, and as no other parties agreed with them, she founded her own party, the Fidelius Party – which was, according to Bennett, “Well to the right of UKIP”. She wrote pamphlets, which she distributed outside the local bank, and wrote slogans in chalk on the pavement. Bennett confessed that she occasionally sent him to have the pamphlets photocopied at Prontaprint, and that he worried the staff there might think he’d written them himself.
Bennett explained that he invited her in off the street – thinking she would only stay for a matter of weeks – because his desk overlooked the van and he found her travails so distracting he couldn’t work. Moving her onto his drive wasn’t so much humanitarian but pure selfishness. Having said this I wonder how many of us would actually invite a smelly old woman to park on our drive for any reason!
Paul, Christine, Gordon, Helen, Nigel, Mike, Nigel, Gina, Ros, Annie, Mike, Paul