A NEW production of Alan Bennett’s funny and poignant drama The Lady in the Van opens at Theatre Royal Bath tonight and runs until Saturday, September 2.

Award-winning Sara Kestelman stars as one of drama’s most extraordinary characters as she plays the eccentric Miss Shepherd, directed by Jonathan Church CBE.

When a decrepit Bedford van grinds to a halt opposite Alan Bennett’s house in Camden Town in 1974, little does the writer suspect that its next parking place will be his own garden, where its evil-smelling occupant is to remain for a further 15 years.

The genuinely eccentric Miss Shepherd used to drive ambulances in the war, has an unexplained aversion to piano music, may have been a nun, and is described by the author as “a bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-centred, rank, rude, car-mad cow”.

This witty and uplifting comedy tells the intriguing true story of Alan Bennett’s unusual neighbour. Forced to turn down his music to her complaints, recharge her van’s flat battery and become her reluctant carer, Bennett uses his vivid observations to create a heart-warming play full of great one-liners.

Sara Kestelman has had a distinguished career spanning 50 years, and has played a plethora of leading roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and in the West End.

She won the Olivier Award as Fraulein Schneider in Sam Mendes's production of Cabaret, and has also starred in the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, The Threepenny Opera, Coco, and recently created the role of Jessie in Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s The Girls.

Most recently on television her work includes ITV’s Maigret in Montmartre and From There to Here and the BAFTA winning In the Flesh, both for the BBC.

Of course The Lady in the Van would not be complete without Alan Bennett himself, or rather the two Alan Bennetts who appear in this play, portrayed by actors Sam Alexander and James Northcote.

Sam Alexander was seen at the start of Bath’s 2017 Summer Season as The Reverend Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon in Racing Demon. His screen credits include Call the Midwife, 45 Years, Wolf Hall, Doctors and Casualty.

James Northcote has recently been seen on television playing the roles of Aldhelm in The Last Kingdom and John Spode in SS-GB. His film credits include The Imitation Game, A United Kingdom and Belle.

  •  The Lady in the Van appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Thursday, August 17 to Saturday, September 2. Tickets from the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 and online at theatreroyal.org.uk