WELCOME TO EWHURST PLAYERS
Nestled at the foot of the Surrey Hills, we're a company of cheery folk with a love of drama. We like to do things well while at the same time embracing new actors and singers at all levels, young and old. So, if you fancy treading the boards with us, just get in touch with our Secretary, Meg Bray, on 07719 679328 firstname.lastname@example.org
BEST OF THE WEST | REHEARSALS UNDERWAY
A fantastic turnout for what is going to be a supercalifragilistic-expialidocious show next March (click here for details). Rehearsals have started and it's great to see so many new folk joining Ewhurst Players. The singing and dancing is a welcome tonic to both the Covid wilderness and the winter blues.
Contact Meg Bray
email@example.com or 07719 679328
NODA REVIEW | THE LADY IN THE VAN
Pauline Surrey writes: The story of the arrival on Alan Bennett’s driveway of the Lady in the Van, and her subsequent 15 year stay, first appeared in his memoirs ‘Writing Home’. Then he wrote the play, later the film appeared. We all know and love Mr Bennett, that National Treasure, and here his writing was as always crisp, funny, acutely observed, and very moving.
The programme offered much. Much more than is sometimes the case. I think one can never underestimate the importance of a ‘meaty’ programme. The Director’s Note told of how the Players kept busy during lockdowns, trying to reach out to the younger generation with Zoom play readings. Simon Fraser also talked about theatre as a shared experience, saying that watching others act, sing and dance before you can never be matched by the big or small screen. I agree. There was a super detailed article on Alan Bennett, with comments on the challenges of performing Lady in the Van, complete with 4 photos of Alan throughout his career. There were interesting cast profiles, a page on the Ewhurst Players, and one on NODA. In short, this was a super programme, designed by Will Shepherd. The icing on the cake was its cover design and the little cartoons that graced so many of its pages.
The set was great, the clever backdrop gave us the view of the North London town houses of Bennett’s street, peeking over his high garden wall. To the right of the stage, the ivy clad wall was hinged, to allow for the arrival of the van. To the left of the stage was the elegant façade and front door of his house. In the left foreground was his desk, with his all important typewriter, and in these circumstances the equally important waste paper bin. Oh, and the dustbin by the front of the house
came into its own for unmentionables too! Props were many, of course, always emerging from the van. Last but not least was the large and weighty coffin.
Lighting was used very effectively throughout. There were some interesting sound effects. Hair played an important role in this production. I personally was fascinated by the two Alans’ wigs (and specs) which gave these two quite different faces such a great similarity. Miss Shepherd had a great many changes of apparel, some more disgusting than others. She was transformed towards the end, after her visit for a wash and brush up to the day centre, amazing! I was also fascinated by the stylish 1970s outfits of Alan’s neighbour Pauline. Took me right back!
It was a delight to see this quite challenging play performed from the back row of Ewhurst Village Hall’s new tiered seating. The play was finely directed by Simon Fraser, who managed to get the balance between the three main characters exactly right. The two Alans, Barry Harrison-Fudge and Will Shepherd, were marvellous at creating the real Alan Bennett’s character, mastering not only his accent, but also his modest, self-deprecating persona, and even his ‘excuse me for breathing’ gait.
Both on stage together, the younger one frustrated, tetchy, perplexed, furious, speechless with anger, yet resigned, the older quizzically looking on, benignly smiling, handing out advice. We didn’t see anything of Alan’s surely exciting life outside the home, but one line I remember so well was upon his realisation that, as more and more of Miss Shepherd’s past was revealed, ‘Alan’s got as much flavour as a pebble!’
Wendy Davies gave us a great Miss Shepherd, fussing about in her many layers of grubby and ill-fitting garments, but giving a hint of her previous existence with her refined accent and vocabulary. This was a lady with a past, who still kept a great deal of dignity and pride. Mysteries about her past were many. There was a traffic accident. There were nuns. There was a time in an institution. There was music, her love and fear of it, her talent, and skill now sadly lost, her great sense of sadness at
that. Her raging at Alan to ‘turn it off!’ each time he played his record player. Wendy Davies excelled.
There were so many themes running through this play. Alan’s trendy neighbours Pauline and Rufus, played very amusingly by Juliet Garland and Mike Humphries, living the Highgate life, in their glamorous outfits, off on their middle-class travels, yet paying lip service to the ‘live and let live’ of that area and era, who obviously earned Alan’s inner scorn.
The theme too of ‘what to do about the aged parent’, question, when the only son had come south. Alan’s guilty conscience about his mam, played sweetly and very well by Meg Bray, were exacerbated by Miss Shepherd’s feisty independence, and her barbed comments about his lack of attention to his mother. Families indeed, all different, the contrast between his guilt feelings, although he did see quite a lot of his mam before her final decline, versus Miss Shepherd’s family disowning her and ignoring her for years.
The social worker, played with vim and vigour by Catherine Staples, was what, society’s guilty conscience, the interference of the Nanny State? She exasperated Alan, and many in the audience too no doubt, but caused many a wry chuckle.
Various other characters popped in and out of this play, ambulance drivers, doctors, a relative, a priest, and a menacing kind of character called Underwood (Ben Aveyard) who kept appearing, peering into the van, exchanging a few words with Alan, then disappearing again. I never got to the bottom of who he was, but I feared the worst.
The van, of course, though a prop, was as good as a character in this play. Scrappily painted in mimosa yellow paint by Miss Shepherd, refusing to travel far without being pushed, with flapping door and sliding window, it was a part of Miss Shepherd really. It emitted a pungent odour. All kinds of ‘useful’ and sometimes disgusting objects were attached to the back door. And of course it haunted Alan’s life throughout these long years.
Finally, despite the best efforts of the social worker, and the best hopes of Alan and the other residents of the street for her to take herself off somewhere else, Miss Shepherd sadly died in her van.
Her funeral was enacted very dramatically and effectively, complete with heavy coffin, pallbearers, planks and ropes, and she was lowered into her grave. Only to pop out again!
The jolly scene at the end, as the van was cleared by some chaps in hard hats and yellow vests, was a nice touch too, release at last for Alan.
All in all, this was a fine production, well directed, well acted, with many little episodes for one to think about later, as well as the wry humour of Alan Bennett’s great writing.