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William Wordsworth review at Theatre by the Lake – ‘poignant and striking’

John Sackville and Tom Pye-Kendall in William Wordsworth at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo: Keith Pattison John Sackville and Tom Pye-Kendall in William Wordsworth at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo: Keith Pattison

Nicholas Pierpan’s new play is structured around a striking sequence of images. It opens with poet William Wordsworth alone on a summit, as in the famous Romantic painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

The play later shows him alone in the graveyard in which he has just buried his son. And it ends with the future Poet Laureate meditating in an armchair in the new home he has managed to secure for his family through entering the service of the local Tory magnate.

In between, the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth, and the Wordsworth household, in 1812 – long after the first flush of their poetic collaboration – serves as a vehicle for a subtle exploration of the competing claims of family and art.

Andrew D Edwards’ outstanding set conjures both complex domestic spaces – at times placing individual rooms within larger cross sections of dwellings – and the impressionist grandeur of the Lakes.

Jon Nicholls’ atmospheric compositions combine very effectively with some wonderfully choreographed scene changes from movement director Karla Shacklock.

Daniel Abelson convincingly embodies the intensity of Coleridge’s famously “individual and unexpected” conversation, as well as the vulnerability of genius. Terence Wilton brings an impressive sense of unfazed entitlement to his Tory grandee Lord Lonsdale, while John Sackville’s Wordsworth is a study in principled and engaging less is more intensity.

Thankfully there isn’t a daffodil in sight, but Wordsworth’s poetry on the river Derwent, and a poignant new context for an early poem about childhood, are beautifully integrated into the action.

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Poignant premiere of a strong first main house production from the new Theatre by the Lake team