The Scotsman review of Grasmere
Review by ANNA MILLAR
Four Stars ****
This subtle and compelling play presents the story of William Wordsworth's relationship with his sister Dorothy. Written by award-winning US playwright Kristina Leach and told from a feminine perspective, the piece not only captures the literary outpourings of the time, but also the social constraints.
Each scene begins with Dorothy giving an update on the weather, from clear skies to harsh storms closing in, a lucid metaphor for the restraints of 19th-century culture. At once trapped and freed by their seclusion in the Lakes, the siblings live happily, until the unexpected arrival of old friends.
As William and Dorothy, actors Matthew Waterson and Rachel McKinney are flawless. For William, as well as being sister and mother to him, Dorothy is his muse, a role that both defines and suffocates her. A writer of some talent herself, Dorothy is confined by her role as a woman in a society.
Those familiar with Wordsworth's work will know he took much of his inspiration from the nature around him. So too did Dorothy, who enjoyed far lesser success as a diarist and travel writer later in her life - the script is generous in its exploration of this. The inclusion of Wordsworth's good friend and contemporary, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Brent T Barnes) is inspired, lending a lightness of touch and providing a catalyst for Dorothy's deeper meditations.
Indeed, as an ensemble, New York's RoaN Productions does exceptionally well with a script that refreshingly does little to skirt the darker elements of the piece, alluding to but never fully embracing the true nature of Dorothy's love for her brother.
The British Theatre Guide review of Grasmere
Review by LOUISE HILL
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.
The Stage review of Grasmere
Review by WILLIAM McEVOY
The relationship between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy was sometimes uncomfortably close. Kristina Leach’s moving play set in 1802 also features their laudanum-quaffing friend and fellow poet Coleridge, as well as a young woman who will capture Wordsworth’s heart and break his sister’s.
This fine production by a young and poised cast conveys a real sense of the writing and emotional lives of these characters. The actors succinctly suggest a strong sense of the period and the tortured deliberations that lead to great poetry.
Coleridge, played by Brent T Barnes, is something of a maverick, alive with humour, in love with Dorothy’s spirit and her brother’s genius. He’s struggling to complete The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and fighting both his demons and excruciating physical pain. His relationship with Wordsworth (Matthew Waterson) is given a multi-layered dimension.
Dorothy, skilfully performed by Rachel McKinney, strikes you as another thwarted female genius confined by the restrictions on her sex. She’s also a proto-feminist, resenting her lack of liberty, wanting to explore the world but tied to her cottage and her complex desire for her brother.
Beautifully paced, with frequent glimpses of humour and some stylish directorial choices, this is a strong ensemble performance of a sensitive piece of writing.
Time Out New York review of Tough Guys Don't Shoot Blanks
Four Stars ****
Tough Guys Don't Shoot Blanks is "one hell of a fun, funny show!"
Curtain Up review of Tough Guys Don't Shoot Blanks
Review by KATHRYN OSENLUND
The too too charming 50s host and hostess dish about movie stars and push products during their "amusing interjections" in the Cinema Cavalcade show. The feature now playing is Tough Guys Don't Shoot Blanks from 1936. B&W frames freeze on the screen and the cast shines as it acts out the movie on stage. With its good old retro crime movie music and vintage screen gangster and cop lingo about mugs, prison screws and dames, Tough Guys is a criminally delightful send-up. At Barrow Street Theatre. 1 hour.