The Lady of the Lake, by Benjamin Askew: Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
When I heard ‘new play about King Arthur written in verse’, I had mixed expectations. Although I always want poetry and verse to succeed, dealing with an established subject matter such as the legend of King Arthur, while using a more traditional form of script-writing, risks the drama feeling staid.
However, despite the play’s mythological setting, it has a contemporary feel. Benjamin Askew’s adaptation of the legend is carefully crafted and controlled, with dialogue that seems both natural and poetic at once.
The Lady of the Lake is also a play which asks big questions about narrative, authorship and autonomy. Framed in the context of a troupe of players, it becomes a play less about the story itself (although it is, of course, a riveting plot), and more about how that story is told and, more importantly, how it is remembered.
Mary Papadima’s stylised direction perfectly complements Askew’s beautiful and subtle verse, while Elizabeth Wright’s deceptively simple set creates almost a blank canvas on which any story could be told.
The integration of music and movement creates a sensory whirlwind, which at times gives the play an almost impressionistic feel – as though reminding us that the story unfolding before us is as fluid as the lake itself.
The only let-down to The Lady of the Lake is its length, occasionally slave to the richness of its intricate plot and sumptuous beauty of its dialogue. However, there is enough talent in the writing and cast to minimise this issue, with Patrick Bridgman playing an uncertain, heartfelt and sympathetic Arthur, years after his prime. Richard Keightley is a disturbingly enigmatic Taliesin, while Charlotte Mulliner and Emily Tucker channelled much of the show’s vivacious energy as Nimue and Morgan.
Benjamin Askew’s The Lady of the Lake is an ambitious play that (for the most part) carries through. In style and technique it is unlike anything I have seen at Theatre by the Lake in recent years: an intriguing piece of theatre.
The Lady of the Lake runs in the Studio at Theatre by the Lake until Friday 6th November