Christmas may be in the past, but nothing winter has thrown at us since has quite equalled that magic time of year. Alex Mullarky takes us back with a nostalgic vignette of the festive seasons of the past at the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Cumbria.

 

Situated on the banks of Derwentwater in the shadow of the fells, Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake is inspiring before you’ve even stepped through the doors. A beautifully built theatre, you might hardly notice it nestled amongst the trees before you’ve arrived in the foyer. What better place to enjoy a quality show at Christmastime?

Caitlin Thorburn and James Baldwin in Grimm Tales

In 2009 audiences were delighted by Grimm Tales, a hotchpotch collection of the brothers’ best-loved and most obscure tales. The company of actors each took on a variety of roles, ranging from children and witches to beasts and birds. A stunning set in which strings of CDs and glass bottles formed the branches of the trees of the forest also acted as an orchestra, with instruments integrated almost invisibly into the set. Music was a vital part of the show and was played by the actors themselves during the performance, adding tension and atmosphere with wood and chimes. From the classic romance of the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to the hilarious sock puppets illustrating ‘the Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’, Grimm Tales was storytelling at its best.

In 2010 Tom’s Midnight Garden was brought to the stage at Theatre by the Lake to much critical acclaim. Most recently, in their Winter 2011 season, the theatre produced a stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel The Firework-Maker’s Daughter. In the Indonesian jungle, Lila, daughter of a renowned firework-maker, longs to follow in her father’s footsteps but is distraught to be told she doesn’t have what it takes. Her determination to prove her father wrong sends her on a perilous journey into the mountains to the cave of the Fire-Fiend and home again to save her father’s life.

The Firework-Maker's Daughter

Accompanied by a band of industrious pirates searching for a ‘million-rupee idea’ and a trumpet-playing white elephant, Lila’s journey, though slow at times, is full of laughs and theatrical ingenuity. The final fireworks display was really remarkable, with projected fireworks spreading up over the backdrop to the canopied ceiling, right over the heads of the audience. Creating a play that centres around fireworks is no mean feat, but with a little light, smoke and sound effects the theatre pulled it off brilliantly. Once more music played an integral part, with a gamelan orchestra creating the sounds of the Indonesian rainforest.

There’s really no better way to celebrate Christmas than a trip with loved ones to watch one of Theatre by the Lake’s seasonal shows. The humour and beautiful production design will appeal no matter what your age, and the stories are sure to be riveting. Top it all off with a wander down to the shores of the lake in the dark and you’re guaranteed a great evening out.

 

Alex Mullarky

Image credits – Keith Pattison