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The British Theatre Guide review of Grasmere

posted Jun 29, 2010, 3:39 PM by Rachel McKinney   [ updated Jun 30, 2010, 11:15 AM ]

August 2007

Four Stars ****

If their Edinburgh debut is anything to go by, there are great things to come from Kristina Leach and RoaN Productions. A piece about the lives of Dorothy and William Wordsworth may not seem the obvious choice for a young American company casting around for their European premiere (and I confess I was sceptical), but this is a mature, assured production of a beautifully written play on love and loss, a moving, truthful piece which is biography and so much more.

Matthew Waterson, bearing an almost uncanny resemblance to the young Wordsworth, plays the poet with humour and just the right balance of honesty and hubris. Rachel McKinney's Dorothy is every inch the repressed, self-denying, intensely intelligent sister. Brent T Barnes' Samuel Taylor Coleridge is simultaneously the light-hearted confidant of both and the tortured poet who wears his genius lightly. Maria Pallas' US accent is by far the most marked, but (and I would never have thought I would say this about so very English a role) she is so utterly the charming, guileless Mary, the perfect contrast with McKinney's Dorothy, that this is soon forgotten.

Leach's writing has the effect of effortlessness, yet manages deftly to combine naturalistic dialogue with more stylised sections in which her characters' inner lives are revealed. The most moving of these shows William and Dorothy playing a game in which they imagine themselves lying in their coffins, Dorothy asking him to promise not to leave her behind when he dies. Even without the knowledge that William pre-deceased her by nine years, this brings a lump to the throat. The cast manage the changes in emotional pitch between this and comic passages such as the saga of Coleridge's albatross conundrum with admirable ease.

If anything, and this is counsel of perfection, I would have liked to see yet more of the darkness of Coleridge's suffering to bring out the parallels between his and Dorothy's predicaments, but the lightness of Leach's touch and the simultaneous depth of her revelation of her characters' suffering is remarkable. The direction works, for the most part, seamlessly with the writing (although I am not sure that even the Wordsworths drank quite so much tea!).

This production isn't perfect, but it is by far the most compelling, moving 75 minutes of straight theatre I have seen at the Fringe so far this year.