The Verdict: What to watch at Theatre by the Lake this year

Handbagged: Julia Watson (T), Eliza Hunt (Q), Ian Barritt (Actor 2), Matt Addis (Actor 1), Alice Selwyn (Mags) and Emma Carter (Liz). Photo by Keith Pattison.

By Ken Powell

I was worried this year when Conrad Lynch took over as Artistic Director at Theatre by the Lake (TBTL). I have loved reviewing the productions over the years and I must confess to a little bit of possessiveness. Even after interviewing the man himself back in January, I wasn’t sure I wanted someone new coming in and ‘upsetting the apple cart’ as it were. I braced myself to give harsher, more critical reviews.

My cynicism softened a little after the Spring productions and I looked forward to what the summer might bring. I wasn’t disappointed.

With time running out before the season comes to an end, you don’t have long to make your mind up to go see a play. So, here’s my round-up of the best of what’s still on offer to help you choose.

I’ll start with my one solitary gripe: There’s only five productions still running rather than the customary six. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the play which only had a run for a month before then moving on was How My Light is Spent which was as hilarious as it was moving and truly original. If it was still on at TBTL I would say it’s a ‘must-see’. Instead, I’ll say ‘keep your eye out’ and if you get a chance to see it elsewhere, take it.

That gripe aside, you can’t go wrong with either of the two productions in the studio theatre. ‘Miss Julieis a dark melodrama of lust and betrayal with Charlotte Hamblin taking the title role in such a sensuous manner it’s hard to imagine any man not cracking under her whims. But, for me. ‘Remarkable Invisible’ is the winner here with Alice Selwyn playing the role of Astrid, caught between her brother and her parents and the unspoken rifts between them.

The Main House has all three productions running. Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ is very good. Not necessarily my cup of tea but if you like The Bard then you will surely enjoy this interpretation of the classic. Worth seeing for Josie Dunn as the naughty little minx which is Phebe anyway. ‘After the Dance’ is possibly the second-best play of the season (of those still running). Despite premiering in 1939, this show is as fresh and shocking now as it was then; and Izabella Urbanowicz’s performance as Joan is breathtakingly sympathetic, making this critique of the 1920s ‘Bright Young Things’ real and relevant to us today.

Without a doubt though, the ‘man of the match’ for this season is Moira Buffini’s ‘Handbagged’. A brilliantly witty imagined look at the conversations between Margaret Thatcher and The Queen the production is a must for all of us who lived through those turbulent times under ‘The Iron Lady’. Despite near perfect performances from four women playing the young and old versions of the ladies in question, I have to say it was the men – Matt Addis and Ian Barritt – who stole the show. Their double act had me in stitches and their portrayals of key men of the era were spot on. If you see nothing else at TBTL this year, go see this play above all others.

All the productions come to an end right at the beginning of November so if you’ve been putting off having a special evening out, go book your tickets while you still can.

Alternatively, there’s still the Christmas production to go which, this year, is a new adaptation of ‘The Secret Garden’. Running from 24 November until 13 January 2018, this promises to be a creative treat I suspect adults and children alike will thoroughly enjoy. I’ll let you know when I see it.

Book tickets online at www.theatrebythelake.com or call the box office on 017687 74411