Hit comedy The Lady in the Van comes to seaside theatre

Sarah Westlake stars as Miss Shepherd in the CSODS production of The Lady in the Van.

Sarah Westlake stars as Miss Shepherd in the CSODS production of The Lady in the Van. - Credit: Sue Bignell Photography

She is eccentric, cantankerous and living in a vehicle parked on a famous playwright’s driveway – and now the story of the The Lady in the Van is coming to north Norfolk.

The Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society (CSODS) is bringing Alan Bennett’s comedy drama to the Sheringham Little Theatre stage from February 9-12.

Based on a true story, the film version of The Lady in the Van was a box office hit in 2015, thanks in no small part to the portrayal of the title character, Miss Shepherd, by Dame Maggie Smith.

Sarah Westlake, from Southrepps, takes on the role in the CSODS play - the group's first since the pandemic.

She said of Miss Shepherd: "She is rude and selfish, but as the story evolves you understand why she is living and behaving like she is.

"There is a lot of humour in it, but also pathos for her and sympathy for Alan Bennett for putting up with her.

"It’s great fun and full of Alan’s wit and observation which I love. The play is also packed with other interesting characters in a real ensemble production."

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The play delves into who Miss Shepherd actually is, while also exploring the writer’s conscience as he wrestles with the daily challenges of co-existing with his uninvited guest.

Ms Westlake, who is also duty manager at the Little Theatre, has previously performed two of Alan Bennett’s monologues during 40 years of acting in London and Norfolk.

Her other lead roles have been as diverse as the feisty New Yorker Joy Gresham in Shadowlands, and 19th century wife Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

She is also the mum of Oliver Westlake, who played Colin the Cow in the theatre's recent Jack and the Beanstalk panto.

Robin Taylor, who plays one of two Alan Bennetts in the show, added: “We should have staged this play 18 months ago, but Covid put it on hold, so it is good to get it, and the society, back into action.“

Directed by Martin Rodwell, performances will start at 7.30pm and there will be a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets are  £12 from www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com or 01263 822347.