Theatre legend Dame Judi Dench has pledged her support for Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake after the loss of the entire summer season and the lucrative Christmas show.
Dame Judi and her late husband Michael Williams were great supporters of the £6 million project to build a replacement for the famous Old Blue Box Theatre on the Lakeside site.
She took the wheel of a bulldozer during construction work, and she and her actor husband put on special performances to raise money for the new theatre which opened in 1999.
Dame Judi’s links with the theatre come through Michael who was a long-standing childhood friend of Keswick couple, the late Phil Kemp and his wife Rosemary. She and Michael opened the theatre and Dame Judi remains as its patron.
With arts venues all over the country facing crisis point due to enforced closure because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dame Judi stressed the importance of saving venues like Theatre by the Lake, which has a special place in her heart,
She said: “Michael and I were delighted to offer our support and to be there to open Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake.”
The 85-year-old actress’s role in provision of the lakeside theatre is commemorated by a bust in the main bar which was sculpted by the late Keswick artist Meryll Evans.
Dame Judi said: “The current situation is sad for the industry-as-a-whole, but I particularly loved the Keswick theatre, as did Michael. It would be dreadful if it closed permanently.” She is desperately worried about the future of this unique Lake District Theatre and added: “It has my complete support now and into the future.”
Local supporter Rosemary Kemp was part of the original team which fought for 25 years to establish a permanent theatre in the town. She has written to Keswick’s MP Trudy Harrison urging her to press the Government for funding for Theatre by the Lake and other producing theatres.
Rosemary said: “I am just so distressed that so many of the hard-working staff in Keswick have been made redundant. We need finance to maintain our theatre during this very difficult time.”
Trade magazine The Stage has forecast that more than 1,000 theatres are facing insolvency. An estimated 70 per cent of performing arts companies could be out of business before the end of the year. Distress signals have been sent out by regional theatres and even by the RSC and National Theatre. It is suggested that hundreds of actors could find themselves permanently unemployed after coronavirus.