The world première of a new play about King Arthur, Britain’s most famous and most mysterious legendary king, is staged at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick until 6 November.
The Lady of the Lake was commissioned by Benjamin Askew, an actor who has appeared in many Theatre by the Lake productions and whose stays in Keswick have intensified his passion for the stories and legends of Arthur and his court.
Askew’s riveting and imaginative play, written entirely in the verse form loved by Shakespeare, has little to do with the glory days of Camelot, the round table or the Holy Grail. It tells instead how Arthur, now old and weary, retires to Carlisle, a city rich in associations with the king. Arthur’s weakness leads to a dangerous vacuum and a fierce struggle for power.
The Lady of the Lake, one of the most ambitious productions ever mounted in Theatre by the Lake’s intimate Studio, is directed by Mary Papadima, the theatre’s Associate Director.
When asked why he wanted to write a play about King Arthur, Benjamin said that he had loved the stories since he heard them first as a child.
They excite me. They confuse me. They fascinate and frustrate me because, no matter how often I might hear them or how many different versions I might read, there is always something new to discover – about me, about humanity, about the world in which we find ourselves. – Benjamin Askew
“At the end of each fresh telling of the tale, there are always new questions to be asked and age-old questions that still remain unanswered.”
These ancient stories “help tell us who we are”. But to make them live for today, Benjamin said he had to find a new lens through which to view them.
“For me, that lens was the Lake District. I first discovered Arthur’s links to Cumbria when I was working as an actor at Theatre by the Lake. The literary history is fascinating but what excited me more was that when I walked through Borrowdale and climbed Castle Crag, the landscape itself seemed to retell the story.
“I began to imagine these characters – so familiar and yet so alien – living out their lives against the backdrop of the fells, seeing the mists of Avalon roll out across Derwentwater, feeling the ancient magic that lurks within Blencathra. My inner geek was captivated. My inner child was enchanted.”
Benjamin wrote his first Arthurian drama when he was seven years old. It was given its one and only performance in his Lancashire classroom on a drizzly Friday afternoon and did not go well.
“Poor Guinevere never made it out of the cloakroom. Within minutes of my carefully crafted prologue, all but she – still waiting amongst the anoraks for a cue that would never come – had well and truly lost the plot: Lancelot was onto his third death scene, Arthur was crying in a corner and several Knights of the Round Table had opted instead to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
The Lady of the Lake has been supported by Bill Mapleson, an emeritus professor at the University of Cardiff, in memory of his wife Doreen. The couple spent many holidays walking in the Lake District and seeing plays at the Blue Box, the mobile theatre that led to the creation of Theatre by the Lake. They contributed to the fund to build the theatre.
The Lady of the Lake opened on Sat 13 June and runs in the Studio, at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, until Fri 6 November.
To enjoy this Lakes cultural event and much more, book your break in the Lake District here