Next comes Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (Main House, Fri 10 June) and Joe Penhall’s Dumb Show (Studio, Fri 17 June); which means that by mid-June Theatre by the Lake will have opened four plays within three weeks, a daring feat of productivity rarely attempted even by much bigger theatre companies with much bigger budgets.
Demands on the twelve actors in the resident company, who will be in Keswick until early November, are intense: each has a part in three plays, which means they have lots of lines to learn and lots of moves to remember. Not to mention the need to turn up in the right play on the right day. Until August, when all six plays have opened, actors will find themselves rehearsing during the day and performing at night. It’s hard work – but many actors who have experienced a Summer Season at Theatre by the Lake can’t wait to come back and six of those ‘regulars’ are back with us this summer.
Coward wrote Hay Fever when he was in his early twenties. It’s a story of four guests invited for a country house weekend with a family described as “divinely mad”. One visitor suggests that “this weekend is going to be difficult”; she and her fellow guests soon learn that it is going to be much worse than that: the actress mother, novelist father and their spoiled son and daughter with whom they have come to stay are the hosts from hell.
“It’s an astonishingly mature play for so young a writer,” said Ian Forrest, Theatre by the Lake’s Artistic Director, who directs Hay Fever. “It’s brilliantly constructed, sparklingly written and very funny, with trademark Coward flashes of wit and observation.”
And there are the famous Coward one-liners: “Awfully nice, Cookham” is only one of many invested with meaning much deeper than the literal truth of the words.
Dumb Show, directed by Theatre by the Lake’s Associate Director Stefan Escreet, tells of the betrayal of a television comedian by two tabloid journalists posing as bank staff. They want the dirt - and they get it. They claim that the facts about the star’s problems with drink and drugs and with his marriage need to be exposed; it’s in the public interest.
Dumb Show became increasing relevant as rehearsal continued. Debates raged as stories emerged of how the rich and famous use super-injunctions to gag the media and stop journalists spilling the beans about their private lives. The controversial issue of Ryan Giggs, the footballer at the centre of the Twitter privacy row, raised again the question of when the private needs to be made public and the story looks to run and run over the coming months.