Date Posted: 7th February 2024

Kirkgate Cockermouth

I heard Melvyn Bragg, speaking in the House of Lords this week, say: WE ARE SLEEPWALKING INTO MEDIOCRITY – HERE’S WHY WE NEED TO REVIVE THE ARTS.  Until a few years ago, Melvyn, erstwhile chair of Words by the Water would be getting ready to travel north in spring for the annual literature festival at Theatre by the Lake but due to a tragic illness suffered by the founders (Kay Dunbar and her now full time carer husband Stephen Bristow) it had to come to a halt.  It is still sadly missed and has left a huge hole in the calendar.

I opened Castlegate House as a gallery in 1987 and have supported theatre in Keswick from the days of the Blue Box to the beautiful building it is today and acknowledge its valuable contribution to the Arts and to the community. The theatre is still recovering from the devastation of cuts and covid and I am thrilled to be able to bring the drama of the Kelly story and the exhibition of his unique works as a fundraiser for our wonderful theatre with the invaluable help of friends Sal and Tony Calvin and volunteers who will cover the exhibition daily. It involves drama and mystery and it’s happening at the Theatre from Easter Saturday (30th March) until 20th April.  Since Percy Kelly’s death 30 years ago there has been a succession of revelations and surprises. The Kelly story just keeps on giving. It is pure drama. It is so exciting. I never know what will happen next! But something always does !

A press release is going out from the theatre today. You, my friends and followers, are the first to know. Here’s an extract

Theatre by the Lake to host world premiere public screening of an unseen Percy Kelly film as part of an extraordinary exhibition


Exhibition Saturday 30 March – Saturday 20 April. Open daily from 12 noon until 7pm (closed Sundays)

World premiere public film screening Saturday 13 April.  Previously unseen footage showing the works of acclaimed West Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly will be screened as part of a special exhibition in aid of Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake this Spring. Running in the theatre’s gallery from 30 March – 20 April, Percy Kelly: Scene and Unseen will also showcase more than 50 paintings, drawings and original prints direct from Percy Kelly’s estate, some on show for the first time. All works in the exhibition will be for sale.

In Spring 2023 Chris Wadsworth, founder of Castlegate House Gallery and representative of the Percy Kelly estate, received a mysterious email asking if she would be interested in a film and a letter from an artist called Percy Kelly addressed to a gallery owner in Paris. Chris replied with caution; Percy died 30 years ago leaving nothing about ever being in Paris. The correspondent had not been able to watch the 8mm cine film footage, but the letter, signed and dated 1964, proved to be genuine.

What followed is an astonishing tale, which is still unfolding today.

The world premiere public screening of the 8mm footage will take place in the theatre’s Studio on Saturday 13 April, including an introduction and Q&A with Chris Wadsworth, giving you the opportunity to learn more about Percy Kelly and the story behind this latest discovery. There will also be a special guest who was present when the film was made.

Sales of exhibited works in the Gallery include paintings, drawings and a collection of prints made by Percy Kelly, as well as limited editions of etchings created from Kelly’s original plates. Sales will be open to the public throughout the exhibition, with proceeds donated to the theatre.

Liz Stevenson, Artistic Director of Theatre by the Lake, said: “Theatre by the Lake is dedicated to celebrating Cumbria and telling Cumbrian stories and so we are extremely proud to have the opportunity to exhibit the works of Percy Kelly here at the theatre. It is an honour for us to host the world premiere of the 8mm footage, the story of which is an exciting, international Cumbrian story in itself, that I’m excited to learn more about as it is shared with our audiences. We are so very grateful to Chris and her team for exhibiting this important work with us, and for her generosity and support for the theatre and arts in Cumbria.”

Entry to the exhibition is free. Tickets to the film screening are £17.50 (£12 for Access tickets) and can be booked from Theatre by the Lake online at theatrebythelake.com, by phoning 071687 74411 or in person at the theatre’s Box Office. Sales of exhibited works will open in person on Saturday 30th March at Midday and online on Tuesday 2nd  April.

Proceeds from sales will be donated to Cumbria Theatre Trust.