Theatre review: Enlightenment by Shelagh Stephenson

This review was written for the Egremont 2Day newspaper in August 2015.

Theatre by the Lake production of ENLIGHTENMENT by Shelagh Stephenson directed by Zoe Waterman

I can barely begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a son somewhere on the other side of the world and have no idea if he is dead or alive. That’s the scenario for Shelagh Stephenson’s Enlightenment which the Theatre by the Lake have just introduced as the last this season’s productions.

The action takes place in the home of Nick and Lia whose son, Adam, has gone missing. This is another play which benefits from the small stage area of the Studio Theatre with audiences on either side. You’re virtually sitting with the players and feel much more in touch with the characters they portray. Perhaps more than any other play this season, Enlightenment is all about character and what makes people behave the way they do. The disquieting subject is handled well by director Zoe Waterman and Stephenson’s plot keeps the play driving forward all the time.

Cate Hamer, who plays Lia, was finally given a chance to shine as a central character and she gives a remarkable performance – utterly believable and simultaneously spellbinding. Charlotte Mulliner, while not playing as strong a role as she does in The Lady of the Lake, gives an excellent performance (as usual) as the slightly devious reporter Joanna; and Patrick Bridgman, who plays Lia’s husband Nick, continues to amaze me with his versatility. This actor, more than any other, has played such completely contrasting characters this season and handled them all with ease. Richard Keightley’s character is key to the whole story and he does an admirable job of making this very complex character seem believable.

Given the subject matter, I was expecting this play to be the heaviest of the three productions in the Studio Theatre but I was wrong. I didn’t come away feeling uncomfortable or challenged about my perceptions in life, rather I found the performance fascinating more than ponderous. Does that make it a noteworthy play? Difficult to say. I didn’t think this was the best of the plays this season – I may be quibbling but felt there were too many potential lines of interest which were not fully explored, like the story behind the paintings; what was that all about? – but my wife, who accompanied me, thought the opposite. She loved it and believes the performance stood out from all the rest.

Whatever the relative merits, Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake have pulled out a mesmerising performance for their last play of the current season. All six now run on until the beginning of November and there’s not a dud among them. Make sure you go see at least one before the season ends – or even all six! Some of the performances are so good it is rumoured a certain editor-who-shall-remain-nameless has been to see at least one of them several times. Can anyone receive higher praise than that?

Enlightenment runs until Saturday 7th November and tickets are available at www.theatrebythelake.com or at the box office (017687 74411)

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