Theatre review - Beauty and the Beast, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Ashley Gerlach (Beast). Photo by Robert Day.

Ashley Gerlach (Beast). Photo by Robert Day. - Credit: Archant

The Theatre by the Lake draw the curtain on 2018 with a classic tale.

Max Gold (Jean-Louis), Sarah Moss (Veronique), Nicola Blackman (The Witch), Joseph Richardson (Andre

Max Gold (Jean-Louis), Sarah Moss (Veronique), Nicola Blackman (The Witch), Joseph Richardson (Andre), Jonny Weldon Emile). Photo by Robert Day. - Credit: Archant

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) have a long-standing tradition of putting on a ‘non-pantomime’ production of the Christmas/Winter period. Over the years, audiences have been entertained with delights from exotic far eastern magical tales to last year’s retelling of ‘The Secret Garden’.

While there has always been some element of magical and comedic children’s storytelling involved, the team at TBTL stay steadfastly away from the ‘he’s behind you’ farces so beloved of amateur dramatic societies all over the country. There’s nothing wrong with the good old British panto, of course (and I’ve guffawed my way through plenty I’ve reviewed over the years), but TBTL likes to put on something different to the usual Christmas offerings.

The first thing to note this year is that the set design is superb. Traditional, yet minimalist, there are no scene changes requiring backdrops to move. Much is imagined, often through choreography, and the set remains in place throughout. It’s beautiful, solid and, appropriately, magical to behold.

The cast too are very good and it is hard to pick out any one member as a shining light. Eleanor Sutton is believable as the pretty and kind girl of the title and Ashley Gerlach as the Beast keeps on the right side of melodrama in his animal rages. The mask and sound effects employed for him, by the way, are excellent and genuinely scary. Strange though it might seem however, I rather enjoyed Charlie Cameron not in her main role, as one of Beauty’s sisters, but as the Beast’s horse. This could easily have become cringing pantomime but her dances were noble and utterly captivating.

Sarah Moss (Veronique), Charlie Cameron (Marie Claire). Photo by Robert Day.

Sarah Moss (Veronique), Charlie Cameron (Marie Claire). Photo by Robert Day. - Credit: Archant

The story unfortunately suffers from its own fame and it is hard to shake off the feeling of panto. This production veers perhaps closer to that kind of entertainment than any I’ve seen in the last ten years but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing for TBTL when it comes to attracting young audiences. I feel they have steered well, creating something which will entertain the young without boring the old and cynical. It’s probably best not to delve into any deep meanings when the main thrust is that it’s ok for innocent girls to love monsters (the traditional French version on which this was based was written to prepare young girls for arranged marriages) and so perhaps that slight panto feel is the better way to approach the theme.

For sure, I enjoyed the performance and the show is up to the usual high standard of the folks at TBTL and I am equally sure next year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ will be excellent. But I do hope too that TBTL will go back to lesser-known stories soon. I recall ‘The Emperor and the Nightingale’ a few years ago as one of the most refreshing and moving Christmas productions I’ve seen in many years.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ plays in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House until 12 Jan 2019. For more information and to book tickets visit or call the Box Office on 017687 74411.