Theatre in the Lake Raises Curtain TonightDate: 19 August 1999
The last British theatre to be built this millennium raises its curtains for the first time tonight. The Theatre by the Lake in Cumbria at the heart of the Lake District, built with £6.25million of lottery funding, opens with a production of Brandon Thomas' Charley's Aunt, which continues until 6 November 1999.
The 1892 farce follows the escapades of three Oxford undergraduates, one of whom is cajoled into playing the part of a rich elderly aunt from Brazil in order to advance the marital ambitions of his two friends. On 2 September, Charley's Aunt is joined in repertory by another comedy - which has waited over 200 years for its world premiere.
The Lakers, written by James Plumptre in the late 18th century, pokes fun at the early visitors to the Lake District, called 'lakers' by the locals. The play is set in Keswick itself and features a travelling salesman, a hiker in a sailor suit, drunken haymakers, boating parties and duels to the death. The Lakers continues until 5 November.
The opening of the Theatre by the Lake coincides with a crisis time for regional theatres in Britain. A report published last year by the National Campaign for the Arts highlighed the dire situation, showing that public funding for producing theatres had falled by 13% since 1992/93. The results are rising deficits and theatres that are cutting back on in-house productions, cast sizes and the employment of professional actors.
Keswick director Patric Gilchrist is undeterred by the challenges. The Theatre by the Lake will receive £100,000 in public funding for the first year and £130,000 per annum after that. During the summer, when Keswick's population swells by 75%, he expects to have near-capacity houses. Outside the tourist season, while the theatre will continue to mount productions, it will augment its income by offering its space for trade shows and conferences.