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The Lady of the Lake

A scene from The Lady of the Lake. Photo: Keith Pattison A scene from The Lady of the Lake. Photo: Keith Pattison

The latest addition to Theatre by the Lake’s summer rep season is the premiere of a verse play taking a fresh look at Arthurian legend, rooted in the many documented associations between the King Arthur legend and northern Cumbria. Elizabeth Wright’s design for the studio space makes good use of vertical levels and subtly suggests the lakeland skyline outside the theatre with a frieze running round the room. Writer Benjamin Askew’s iambic lines at their best are fluid and arrestingly aphoristic (‘there is some grit within this girl/That pearls my better judgement’).

The performance’s strongest moments come from fusions of words, movement and sound. Dan Steele’s sound design and original music is an excellent contribution to pacing and atmosphere. Director Mary Papadima, movement director Ben Ingles, and fight director Peter Macqueen conjure memorable images of sexuality, violence and birth, particularly in the first half. Ingles impresses too as the mesmerically psychopathic warrior Owain. Charlotte Mulliner and Emily Tucker as the friends-turned-mortal-enemies Morgan and Nimue both bring a vital physicality to the piece.

It feels overlong, though, and the pace does drag in the second half (presumably not helped by the preview being cancelled through actor illness). Not all the lines sparkle (‘Hippocratic hypocrite!’), and the remaining four characters – Arthur, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and the bard Taliesin – give the actors comparatively little to work with. There is a finally distracting layer of references to scripts, playhouses, tragedy, telling stories, and playing scenes, as characters speculate about how things will finally be told or remembered, which feels like one idea too many.

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Verdict
An ambitious, flawed new play with some fine moments
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