THE LADY OF THE LAKE
by Benjamin Askew.
Theatre by the Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 6 November 2015.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 August.
Local history, but not as we know it.
The Lady of the Lake is an ambitious premiere from the Theatre By the Lake. Though a Studio show, it has a larger cast than the corresponding main-house production, and the longest running time of Keswick’s six show repertory. That length is the play’s most significant weakness; too many points are repeatedly made without dramatic progression.
Benjamin Askew partly wrote it while acting in the 2013 summer season, so the spirit of the place might well be present. He uses historic rumours that the Arthurian legend belongs to Cumberland. And while many modern Arthurian dramas focus on the coming of the King, his boyhood and the pulling of sword from stone, Askew considers his later life, looking to the future.
It’s a mighty tale to tell in a small space, and the two rock-like heights to be scaled either side of the stage help create a sense of force without seeming constricting in Elizabeth Wright’s design – like her costumes, the set suggests a remote past but one not unconnected with the human strain. These people of ancient legend were complex in their humanity.
Which is competitive and conniving as well as generous. Competition sours the friendship between the young women Nimue and Morgan – finely played by Charlotte Mulliner and Emily Tucker – while a generation up, Kate Layden’s Argante is a forbidding figure who goes the way of strong, independent-minded women in a male, martial society.
There’s dubious loyalty among the men, and a sense of uncertainty about kingship in Arthur. All this is expressed in language incorporating passages of rhyming verse, which is Askew’s particular interest. He is accomplished in using rhyme in lines which speak naturally – rhyme emerges from meaning, rather than forcing the word order. He also avoids the bathetic comic impact so often resulting from rhyme in English drama.
Yet, language also lets him down – maybe the Arthurians had heard of Hippocrates (mentioned once) but the programme-announced ‘strong language’ is a weakness. Mystic presences on the skyline are realistically interpreted as the Saxons approaching – yet Askew has their swear-words already installed, somehow, around the Arthurian table.
Arthur/Old Taliesin: Patrick Bridgman.
Owain: Ben Ingles.
Taliesin: Richard Keightley.
Argante: Kate Layden.
Merlin: Peter Macqueen.
Nimue: Charlotte Mulliner.
Morgan: Emily Tucker.
Director: Mary Papadima.
Designer/Costume: Elizabeth Wright.
Lighting: Jo Dawson.
Sound/Composer: Dan Steele.
Movement: Ben Ingles.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.