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The Information on: Lady in the Van'

What Is It?

Alan Bennett's often hilarious autobiographical new play, directed by Nicholas Hytner, about the formidable tramp who lived in the playwright's driveway for 15 years.

Who's In It?

Maggie Smith (right) gives her best performance in years as the combative yet vulnerable Miss Shepherd, the homeless women who was for ever on the run from a troubled past. The dramatist's divided feelings are symbolised by having him played by a pair of actors. Kevin McNally is the cool, detached writer exploiting his life and the people in it for material, while Nicholas Farrell is the writhing liberal who seems to hold his alter-ego in contempt.

What They Say About It

"A performance of quite brilliant formidability and pathos by Maggie Smith... The play is studded with great comic lines... I was never reconciled though, to the brightly coloured pop-up book feel of Nicholas Hytner's production, which makes Bennett's writer-infested neck of north London look more like Trumpton than what it is - Ramsay Street with added literacy," Paul Taylor, The Independent.

"This is, without doubt, the best new play of the year," Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph.

"While the double narration embodies Bennett's own condition of existing permanently in two minds, it is not quite enough to give the evening a strong dramatic dynamic... The evening chiefly leaves you admiring Maggie Smith's inhabitation of Miss Shepherd and Bennett's own self-questioning spirit," Michael Billington, The Guardian.

Where You Can See It

The Lady in the Van is at the Queen's Theatre, London W1 (0171-494 5040) to 28 Feb