Summer plays by the water

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Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake has opened its summer season with two very different plays – a family-friendly comedy in the Main House and a classic drama by an American master in the Studio.

Until Saturday the centenary of the publication of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps is marked with a stage adaptation that owes rather more to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film than to the novel.

Although 139 characters tell the play’s story of the thrilling pursuit of dashing hero Richard Hannay – played by Jonny McPherson, right – from London to misty Perthshire, all those parts are played by just four quick-changing actors.

In the Studio, again until Saturday, the remaining actors from the 12-strong summer company present a Tennessee Williams double bill. Mister Paradise – a short two-hander – precedes Suddenly Last Summer, Williams’ masterpiece from 1958.

Filmed with Elizabeth Taylor in 1959, it is set in the steamy heat of New Orleans after the death on a beach of young poet Sebastian Venable. Secrets and lies are revealed as his family argue over what happened and who is to blame.

These productions will be followed by the other four plays in the season.

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh opens on June 6 and the world première of The Lady of the Lake, a story of King Arthur in Cumbria, a week later.

The final two plays are Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels, which opens on July 25 and Enlightenment by Shelagh Stephenson, from August 1.

The shows change frequently on both stages and dedicated theatregoers could see all six within a week!

Box office: 017687 74411 or www.theatrebythelake.com