THE first tour of a special West End hit is coming to Malvern next week.

The Lady in the Van is the latest work of Alan Bennett and stars another acclaimed and popular figure, Susan Hampshire.

It is coming to Malvern after being dubbed play of the year by West End critics. The story contains all the classic Bennett wit and observation and he has even written himself into the story.

An old Bedford van parks up outside Alan Bennett's house in Camden Town and the next parking place for its eccentric occupant ends up as the writer's own garden, where it stays for 15 years.

The van contains Miss Shepherd, a trained concert pianist, former nun and would-be Prime Minister. Her author landlord, however, describes her as a 'bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-centred, rank, rude, car-mad cow'.

Bennett ends up having to turn his music down, recharge her van's flat battery, and become her reluctant carer.

Paul Bigley, David Holt and Victoria Carling join Susan Hampshire in the show. She is most recently famous for her part in BBC's Monarch of the Glen and has won Emmy Awards for her performances in The Forsyte Saga, The First Churchills and Vanity Fair. She has appeared at Malvern Theatres in recent years in Relative Values and Relatively Speaking.

There is also a chance for fans to talk to Susan Hampshire at a special fund-raising lunch at the Colwall Park Hotel, near Malvern, on Thursday, February 3, when she will be talking about her life and career. The Lady in the Van runs at Malvern's Festival Theatre from January 31 to February 5.

Contact the box office for details and ticket information on 01684 892277 (