The Shepherd’s Life, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

THERE could be no more fitting place for the world premiere of The Shepherd’s Life than Theatre by the Lake.

Set within grazing land on the shore of Derwentwater, this is the homeland of shepherd, writer and Twitter sensation James Rebanks.

Adapter Chris Monks has transported this local hero’s perfect words to the stage - as naturally as the hefted sheep he writes about move from fell to valley as the season predict.

This is the most perfect piece of theatre I have ever had the honour to watch. As with the autobiography of Rebanks and his family, the stage production takes us through the seasons and clearly demonstrated the history, heritage and passions hill farming families in Cumbria have for their way of life.

The animation of the animals is beautiful, creative and accurate. The accents are pitch perfect, the mannerisms intuitive and after spending more than a decade covering agricultural shows in the Eden Valley, I felt I had seen these characters many times showing their sheep, crafts and expertise.

Everyone of the actors, both professional and those in the local chorus, capture what it is like to be a Cumbrian, proud of their way of life and fighting to keep it alive.

The recent history of foot and mouth, which devastated this county, is handled with sensitivity and honesty. A moving moment that captured what it was like living on a farm in 2001.

The references to schools, nightlife and shows, with photos from the Rebanks’ family album gave an honest picture of growing up and living in this rural land. Like a 1950s/60s kitchen sink dramas, this play tells the truth about being a working person, yet unlike its predecessors it does not look for a way out but a means of sustaining this culture in the modern world.

The set design, like the people is honest, clear and natural – the rugged shadow of the fells against the wide expanse of sky is instantly recognisable. From Wordsworth to Wainwright and Potter the writers who have been inspired by this land make guest appearance. And Rebanks deserves to be named among these great Lakeland writers; this play from his words creates a new generation who will learn to love and understand this area through his books.

This is a play not to be missed and I hope will be returning to Theatre by the Lake again soon – if not on the big screen. It screams to be made into a movie.

The Shepherd’s Life runs until Saturday, April 23.

Karen Morley-Chesworth