They call it Britain’s most remote producing theatre but Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake is not too remote for North East audiences keen to visit a smart venue in a lovely location.
Artistic director Ian Forrest has just announced the eight home-grown productions that will be performed in the main house and studio throughout the year with booking now open.
“We’ve always tried to give our audiences the best theatre of all kinds, with a focus on choice,” said Ian.
“For 2015 we’ve continued to combine recent plays and older classics, also balancing lighter comedy with more serious drama.”
Theatre by the Lake has become famous for its summer repertory season with three plays each being performed in rotation on its two stages.
But the first of the home-produced shows is a studio production of Two by Jim Cartwright in which two actors play the 14 colourful characters who gather in their local pub to share stories – some hopeless, some hilarious, some both.
Lancashire-born Cartwright landed on the theatrical scene with a splash, winning several awards for his 1985 debut play, Road. Then, in 1992, came The Rise and Fall of Little Voice which also became a successful film with Jane Horrocks and Brenda Blethyn.
Two will run from March 21 to April 14 in Theatre by the Lake’s 100-seat studio before touring the county.
The summer season begins nice and early on May 23, catching the first of the holiday-makers, and runs until November 7 which the less cheery of us might describe as autumn.
The first of the three plays in the 400-seat main house is The 39 Steps, a new production of the West End hit adapted by Patrick Barlow from the Hitchcock film rather than John Buchan’s novel. This time four actors play 100 characters in what promises to be a fast-paced thriller.
This will be followed by Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s toe-curling 1970s comedy about socially aspiring suburban couple Laurence and Beverly, and Fallen Angels by Noel Coward.
Coward must be a favourite with Keswick theatre-goers because this follows previous productions of Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives.
The studio boasts the world premiere of The Lady of the Lake, a first full-length play by actor Benjamin Askew who has appeared in past Theatre by the Lake productions and is currently writing a PhD thesis about the use of verse in 21st Century theatre.
The Lady of the Lake, written in verse, is described as a “thrilling” play which “plunges you into a world of ancient magic and ruthless ambition, bringing Camelot to the heart of Cumbria”.
Enlightenment, by North East-born playwright Shelagh Stephenson, is the second of the studio plays. Premiered in Dublin in 2005, it introduces us to Lia and Nick whose 20-year-old son disappears one day – and then reappears six months later. But is it really him?
Completing the trio is Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams which is to be preceded by another short Williams play, Mister Paradise.
Completing the year’s new productions is Christmas show The Snow Queen, adapted by Charles Way from the Hans Christian Andersen tale.
“Selecting the year’s productions is one of the great pleasures and great challenges of my job,” said Ian Forrest.
“This year I hope I’ve found the perfect mix of plays for our Cumbrian audience as well as visitors.
“We’ll bring to them the highest standards of acting and production and I hope there will be something for everyone to enjoy.”
It looks like an attractive bag to me. Theatre by the Lake, which in 1999 replaced the famous old ‘blue box’ touring theatre which had come to rest in the carpark, has increased annual audiences for theatre in Keswick from under 20,000 in the late 1990s to more than 130,000 today.
That’s quite an achievement. And it should also be said that the theatre will also host 54 attractions from visiting companies and artists between February and May – more than in previous years. Live entertainment in Lakeland is booming, it seems.
Check all these shows on www.theatrebythelake.com (box office: 017687 74411).