New play about the ‘secret’ Beatrix Potter is enthralling audiences

Audiences have been enjoying finding out more about the intriguing and secret side of Beatrix Potter, the recluse, many years after she wrote her famous books.  Here’s some audience quotes:

“Got to be seen!  An excellent 5 star production.  All cast & crew should be very proud”

“Wonderful in Windermere”

“Amazing performance well worth seeing…”

“Absolutely my picture of Beatrix Potter”  Sarah Gristwood

“An emotional opening night – see it if you can”

“Moving and thought-provoking.  So glad to have seen it”

“Very proud of our places & to look after Beatrix Potter’s legacy after seeing the brilliant Meeting Bea”  National Trust

“Amazing Cast & performance celebrating Beatrix Potter.  An emotional script capturing our heritage”

And read a review from Stagey Lady here: The Tale of Mrs Heelis, the ghost of Beatrix Potter

Meeting Bea. Old Laundry Theatre. Bowness on Windermere

She was a woman of so many talents and so much imagination and creativity, an artist and a scientist and a writer – and that was before Beatrix Potter found her true calling as a farmer and landowner.

And as the delightful and compelling Meeting Bea shows us, there were two distinct personalities, one in uneasy and defiant recognition of the other. The creator of cute Peter Rabbit was a withdrawn and unsociable curmudgeon in reality, scarred by the isolated upbringing that led her to have a dread of strangers, and scarcely any friends.

But the way that two stubborn and intransigent admirers attempt to break down her defences, in pursuit of different ambitions, is superbly illustrated here in the Bowness Theatre Festival production at the Old Laundry Theatre.

Veronica Roberts, who with director Peter James adapted this play by Eric Pringle for the stage (he wrote it for the radio originally), commands the set as Beatrix Heelis, “Mrs Heelis” not Miss Potter. Here is redressed a balance disturbed in popular fiction by the pretty Renee Zegweller screen character. Here instead is earth and mud and calving cattle and smelly sheepskins drying in the cellar, and stout and capable matron with mud on her boots.

Here too is a community which fails to respect Mrs Heelis as a farmer because she’s a woman, just as the learned gentlemen of the Linnean Society failed to acknowledge her ability and her vision as a scientist (a snub which led her directly to the children’s stories as an alternative career).

Roberts plays the role in the manner of Patricia Routledge, who happens to be president of the Beatrix Potter Society, but with a power and a personality which are uniquely hers. Even in her 60s, Bea can’t escape from the harridan mother (Sandra Voe) who still begrudges her daughter’s former engagement to a tradesman, the publisher Norman Warne whose untimely death Bea still mourns, while Patrick Bridgman is the gentle and devoted William Heelis, whose true worth Bea finally recognises after laying some ghosts.

Their uncompromisingly rooted existence is shaken by the appearance of a persistent American publisher (John Moraitis) and an equally persistent young admirer (Lucy Telleck) who form an unlikely alliance to break down Bea’s barriers. The subsequent revelations are deeply moving and offer one of the clearest insights yet into the heart and soul of this true national treasure.

Meeting Bea plays at the Old Laundry Theatre until October 9. Go there. It will not be a wasted journey.

Box office: 08445 040604