REVIEW: The Lady in the Van, Lyceum

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THERE is no such thing as marking time, says Alan Bennett in his very funny play about a mad woman who stayed in a van in his garden for 15 years. Time marks you.

Being Bennett, he mines the situation for literary gold: Miss Shepherd, a religious madwoman who sells pamphlets and pencils, claims to have seen Mr Khruschev in the local park and has the Blessed Virgin Mary regularly call to see her, poops in a plastic bag and smells like a polecat.

But Bennett also mines himself and we have two of him on stage; one as narrator, the other as commentator on his complex relationship with Miss Bennett.

The play is full of Bennettisms. “Do you have any next of kin?” “Yes.” “They’re the ones you’ve got to watch.”

When Bennett tells Miss Shepherd his mother is in a coma she retorts: “She’s probably just having 40 winks.”

As one of the author’s two selves observes: “In life, going downhill is an uphill job.”

In this Hull Truck production Nichola McAuliffe, as Miss Shepherd, who first appears as what seems to be a bundle of rags on stage, puts in a wonderful performance full of scratchings (I felt itchy myself), sharp looks and a shrill-voiced call: “Mr Bennett!”

Sean McKenzie and Paul Kemp, as the two identically dressed Bennetts, do excellent impersonations of the author.

The play, which runs until Saturday, ends on a religious note with an Ascension but you’ll never guess what it is.