National director Nicholas Hytner: ‘I thought Alan Bennett kept his mother in van on drive’

National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner backstage at Cecil Sharp House with Dame Joan Bakewell. Pi

National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner backstage at Cecil Sharp House with Dame Joan Bakewell. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

It must have been a case of déjà vu for departing National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner at a fundraising talk in aid of Primrose Hill Community Library.

The 58-year-old was in conversation with fellow local resident Dame Joan Bakewell on February 27, who confessed she was on the interview board that appointed Hytner 12 years ago.

Happily no longer auditioning for a job, he was grilled instead about his successful record at the National, and forthcoming film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van.

It stars Dame Maggie Smith as homeless pensioner Miss Shepherd, who spent 18 years living in a dilapidated van on Bennett’s driveway in Gloucester Crescent, Primrose Hill.

Hytner, who has exclusively directed Bennett’s recent work including The History Boys and The Madness of King George III, told a packed audience at Cecil Sharp House, Primrose Hill: “I first met Alan a few months after the lady in the van made her final ascension.

“But when I used to live in Erskine Road in the early ’80s I would quite often, if I was going to shop, walk the detour round Gloucester Crescent because I knew about all the famous people who lived there.

“Until Alan wrote about it no-one knew what was going on, so when I walked past Alan’s house and looked at this bizarre thing going on on the drive – she was unavoidable – I could only wonder, ‘Does he keep his mother in a van on the drive?’”

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Hytner went on to direct Bennett’s stage adaptation of The Lady in the Van and now the screen version which is out in November.

Funds raised at the talk go towards buying books and running the library in Sharpleshall Street, which Camden Council handed over to the community three years ago.

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