The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick “does exactly what it says on the tin” – it’s a repertory theatre situated close to the northern lake shore of Derwent Water. It opened in 1999 with funding from an Arts Council Lottery Fund Grant. It has a main auditorium and a Studio theatre. From May to November every year a resident company of up to 14 actors perform a Summer Season of six plays in repertory.
(Picture source; Visit Cumbria website)
We’ve thought about going to see a play there while we’ve been on holiday in the Lake District, but, for various reasons, haven’t been able to to. But during our recent break in Keswick we got tickets to see their production of The Lady of the Lake by a young playwright, Benjamin Askew, in the Studio Theatre.
Studio performances in theatres are usually devoted to new and/or experimental works. And this was the premiere of the first play by, Benjamin Askew who is originally from the Ribble Valley in Lancashire and who spent childhood holidays in the Lake District.
The playwright builds on the Cumbrian take on the legend of King Arthur. There are claims that Penrith is the location of the Round Table and that his sword, Excaliber, was found in and returned to Lake Bassenthwaithe. Some have even suggested that Carlisle was the location of Camelot.
The play locates Avalon, a pagan realm, in Cumbria, ruled over by the Lady of the Lake. Arthur and his men, faced with a Saxon invasion, have retreated to Carlisle. This is the seeing for a tale involving a conflict between pagans and Christianity, pagan ritual, incest and ambition and a struggle for power.
(Picture source: Theatre by the Lake website)
There was a cast of seven, relatively large for a Studio production. I thought the two young female performers, Charlotte Mulliner (Nimue) and Emily Tucker (Morgan), were very good, and there was a strong performance by Ben Ingles as the psychopathic warrior Owain.
The “Game of Thrones” and other series set in a mythical or semi-mythical Dark Ages have become very popular on TV and this play rather reminded me of them. I also saw some similarities with the Simon Armitage versions of the Illiad and the Odyssey which we’ve seen in recent years at the Royal Exchange and Liverpool Everyman.
The play was, perhaps, overlong and a little over the top, especially during the second half. The plot got a little over-complicated too, at times. So Benjamin Askew still needs to work on his craft. But overall an enjoyable evening.