Theatre review - The Secret Garden, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

The Secret Garden, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

The Secret Garden, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick - Credit: Archant

All is revealed behind the secret garden. Review by Ken Powell

The Secret Garden, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

The Secret Garden, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick - Credit: Archant

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) is coming to the end of the final production of the 2017 season with a few days left to see The Secret Garden - and what a beautiful production it is too.

Taking something of a gamble, artistic director Conrad Lynch moved away from the magical fairy-tale stories, much beloved by audiences over the Christmas period at TBTL and went for the classic children’s story by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The risk paid off for a number of reasons.

Director Liz Stevenson kept the play at just the right level, avoiding too much sentimentalism and expressing a greater connection to Indian roots for Mary, the main character of the story. This is no surprise - the same director did a superb job with the smash hit Handbagged during the summer.

Likewise, the music, lighting and stage direction were all on point. The set design in particular, was a masterpiece of the use of space. There were no cumbersome scene changes - traditionally inevitable with a story which moves from inside to outside all the time. Instead, a clever two-storey ‘cube’ centre stage allowed almost seamless scene changes. The result: the magic was never broken.

And then there’s the actors themselves. A young cast, some inexperienced and not necessarily perfectly cast (Chris Jack as the father, Archibald Craven, was just a little too young and too sweet to be convincing as a heartbroken and bitter hunchback) but nonetheless, a strong team with some outstanding performers.

Olivia Sweeney played the maid, Martha, and for the first time of all productions I’ve seen in the past, brought this character from the book alive and made her both believable and lovable. The star of the show though was - the star of the show! Natasha Cottriall is an astonishing young actor and might just be the best Mary I’ve seen. Believably a little girl, believably rude and obnoxious, believably a changed person through the healing of love and nature; This fine young actress was a joy to watch and she had a magical singing voice too and the production made full use of that fact. I hope TBTL hire Cottriall again.

You might just still have opportunity to snag a ticket or two before it’s too late. But more importantly, the forthcoming season of plays looks likely to continue the magic and quality seen in The Secret Garden. Find out more about what’s coming from the Box Office on 017687 74411 or visit

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The Spring 2018 season includes musical tribute performances as well as opera, touring drama, dance, family friendly events and film. Highlights this spring include Nina – A Story about Me and Nina Simone, starring Olivier Award-nominated actress Josette Bushell-Mingo. Backed by a live band, Josette reveals the extraordinary career of the renowned singer-songwriter in a powerful and searing show that has garnered rave reviews across the country. It plays in the Main House from 27 February to 3 March.

The theatre’s Spring Season of home produced work begins in the Studio with an extraordinary one-woman tour-de-force performance, starring Olivier Award-nominated actress Elizabeth Mansfield with Hymn to Love – Homage to Piaf, from 23 March – 10 April. Co-produced with York Theatre Royal and in association with Ensemble, Hymn to Love will then embark on a rural tour across Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland and play at York Theatre Royal between 17 – 21 April.

In the Main House, the theatre is proud to present not one but two classic dramas, with A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, produced by English Touring Theatre (3 – 7 April), and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in an adaptation by Ken Bentley and starring Nichola McAuliffe (10 – 14 April), best known for her role as Sheila Sabatini in the ITV sitcom Surgical Spirit.

Also programmed are family friendly events with February half-term packed full of shows suitable for children aged 2+. Including skillful puppetry, cheery singing and live music – plus interactive games to fire the imagination – there’s an explosion of varied acts such as The Chit Chat Chalk Show for chalky adventurers or A Tiger’s Tale following a travelling tiger cub. The fun doesn’t stop when Little Mermaid – The Circus Sensation based on the well-known fairy tale, storms the theatre with daring acrobatics and spellbinding songs in mid-March.

As always there is the familiar line-up of festivals taking us into spring beginning with Keswick Film Festival and the Keswick Jazz & Blues Festival. Literary lovers are spoilt for choice in early March with this year’s speakers at Words by the Water Festival and Keswick Mountain Festival returns to Crow Park in June for more outdoor sports activities, live music and inspirational speakers.

Theatre by the Lake’s Summer Season opens on 24 May and includes the following productions:

Main House

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, a play from the works of P.G. Wodehouse by The Goodale Brothers. Iconic double act Bertie Wooster and his dutiful valet Jeeves play matchmakers during a weekend away in this totally bonkers and inventive comedy. A recent hit in the West End, it won an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2014 and features three actors playing a multitude of characters.

Single Spies, by Alan Bennett. This Olivier Award-winning double bill explores one of Britain’s most fascinating stories of espionage. Set in the 1950s during the Cambridge spy scandal, it follows the characters of Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt; their secret identities, forgeries, fraud and a rather unexpected interrogation by the Queen! A comic masterpiece.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen, a sparkling tale of affairs of the heart adapted by Jessica Swale (who also adapted TBTL’s 2017 Christmas show, The Secret Garden). At present the Dashwood sisters’ circumstances look bleak, cheated of their inheritance and banished to a Devonshire cottage, their dreams of true love and circumstance are a distant memory. But events look set to improve upon the arrival of a handsome stranger.


Rails by Simon Longman. A world premiere and shortlisted for the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for playwriting, Rails tells the story of two bored teenagers Mike and Sarah whose lives collide one hot summer in a blur of hormones, loneliness and dreaming. Funny, poignant and sometimes painful, they discover growing up is just as confusing as they say.

Bold Girls by Rona Munro. Set in Belfast in the early 90s, Bold Girls explores female friendship against the backdrop of a city in upheaval. Rona Munro is one of Scotland’s finest playwrights; she also wrote Iron which was a hit in Theatre by the Lake’s 2016 Season.

Christmas 2018

Beauty & the Beast, by Laurence Boswell, based on the classic fairy tale. When bright, beautiful Belle is taken prisoner by a fearsome beast, she discovers there is much more to her captor than appearances first suggest. An enchanting and inventive adaptation.

TBTL is putting on sale today seven of their own plays which will run between March 2018 and early 2019. Once again the theatre offers fantastic savings to those locals or regular visitors who book to see the whole season of work. The I LOVE THEATRE package lets patrons watch nine shows on weekdays saving them up to 58% on the full price of the tickets* - at just £13 per show it’s a true bargain. Other smaller ticket offers similarly allow considerable savings with a six show I LOVE SUMMER ticket deal priced at just £80.