Alan Bennett was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and is one of the county’s (and the country’s) greatest living playwrights. Covering decades of success in screenwriting, the writer’s work is on the national English curriculum and is studied in Universities across the land. In this article we discuss the plays which have given him most acclaim.
The Lady in the Van
Made into a film production in 2015, The Lady in the Van is based on the true story of an elderly lady by the name Miss Shepherd who lived in a campervan in Alan Bennett’s driveway for 15 years until her death. The book is written in first person, based heavily on diary notes made by Alan Bennett on the lady who he allowed to live outside the window where his desk was. The play is very emotional as it tracks the charming lady’s decline. Alan Bennett the writer is presented in conflict with his more rational doppelganger in the film. It turns out in the end that Miss Shepherd was in hiding from the police after being involved in an accident with a motorcyclist. It has an uplifting ending, showing Miss Shepherd’s spirit form meeting the young man who crashed into her van and her ascension into heaven as she, a devout Christian, would have wanted.
Bennett’s dramatic monologues take on everyday characters from Yorkshire. The play was an adaptation of a BBC TV series from 1988, in which first person narratives portray each of the six characters’ loneliness. The characters are all of a similar background and find themselves on the fringes of society. Despite the plight of their situations, the six characters’ down-to-earth dialogue endear them to the viewer. One of the more memorable characters is Irene Ruddock in a part called A Lady of Letters, a traditionalist who writes letters to complain about declining standards. When she lands herself in a women’s prison for causing disruption, she ironically becomes chirpier.
Graham is another complex middle-aged character in Talking Heads. He lives with his mother, who he has a strange relationship with. Graham is a Guardian reader who is in the closet about his sexuality. He reveals a shocking fact about his mother’s old flame when she reunites their relationship.
The History Boys
The History Boys was so successful as a play that it was adapted into a film starring a young James Corden in 2006. Other leading actors who played history students in the film and tour of the play include Russell Tovey, Dominic Cooper and Samuel Barsnett. All of whom have gone on to have impressive acting careers. Set at a grammar school in the 1980s, the comedy earned critical acclaim for its representation of well-educated teenagers expected to get into Oxford or Cambridge and exploration of homosexuality. The plot follows the boys along their sixth form studies, when they are taught by contrasting lecturers Irwin and Hector, to results’ day of their entrance exams to Oxbridge.