Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston

“There’s a limit to what you can do”

Good theatre makes you think, but great theatre makes you dig deep to really contemplate the deeper questions in life and how you might react in a similar situation. Peter Nichols’ 1967 play A Day In The Death of Joe Egg sits firmly in the latter category and in this magnificent production – a joint effort between the Rose Theatre Kingston and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and directed by Stephen Unwin – it deals sensitively but firmly with the challenging reality of being parents to a severely disabled child.

Schoolteacher Bri hates his job and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian – a juxtaposition which is beautifully realised in a highly amusing opening sequence – but his dissatisfaction has much deeper roots. His 10 year old daughter Josephine can’t do anything unaided or communicate with the outside world and the strains on his marriage to Sheila are really starting to show, they get by turning their life into one big comedy routine to numb themselves from the brutal truth of their situation. Continue reading “Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse

“It means the journey ahead might get shorter, I might reach the end of my rope”

Hardly the sunniest of topics for a musical, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade is based on the true 1910s story of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman who is accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee in his factory. How the trial unfolds in Atlanta, Georgia and its impact ripples out, characterises a Deep South rife with virulent anti-Semitism, whipped up by a sensationalist media and fomented by opportunistic politicians and Leo, with his wife Lucille, are swept along with the inescapable tide. This new production is presented in the Vault at Southwark Playhouse, a dark spare space of shadowy arches and echoing sound.

It is a beautifully complex score – one which would reward repeated listening I imagine – pulling in influences from a diverse range of sources, evoking emotion well but more crucially constantly pushing the story forward. Because if there’s a weakness it is that the central premise is fairly limited, the same points are made repeatedly in lieu of much by the way of actual drama. But directed by Thom Southerland, the show really sparkles when it centres on the marriage between Brooklynite Leo and Southern gal Lucille, his bookish dullness captured well by Alistair Brookshaw and contrasted by the openness of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s stunningly-voiced wife whose relentless drive to clear his name wakens a new, deeper love between the two. Continue reading “Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse”