Dec 8 2017 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Manic

Assembly Roxy: Wed 6 – Sat 9 Dec 2017
Review by Joe Christie

Despite inventive direction and committed performances, The Grads struggle to navigate the tonal quagmire of Craig Lucas’ bizarre Christmas caper, Reckless.

The play, written in 1983 and made into a 1995 movie, starts during a Christmas Eve blizzard in Connecticut, where the relentlessly optimistic Rachel discovers that her husband has put out a hit on her – forcing her to flee her home in nothing but dressing gown and slippers.

Stewart Kerr and Kerri Clarence. Pic: Lunaria Ltd

In an act of seasonal goodwill, Rachel is taken in by social worker Lloyd and his paraplegic wife Pooty. They conspire to forge a new identity for Rachel, finding her a new job and becoming a surrogate family for her. But she remains a marked woman, and, soon finding herself on the road again, she begins to unravel.

Through the course of Rachel’s journey, the play takes many an extended detour: at one moment, Reckless is a game show pastiche; at another, a Kafkaesque satire set in an office. In its most dated and uncomfortable moments, it’s an acerbic look at caring for family with disabilities.

The issue with such a freewheeling plot is that the jet-black comedy lacks a solid grounding—as an audience member, you are never sure who the target of the joke is, or where your sympathies should lie. Is the play making fun of the cloying American sentimentalism that surrounds the holidays? Or is it lampooning the naiveté of characters who are buying into it?

David Grimes’ production dives head-first into the quirks of the script, aided and abetted by an energetic and talented ensemble who gamely commit themselves to all the bizarro twists and turns. However, there seems to be a loose grasp on how to mine the irony and darkness that underpins the play’s wacky surface.

genuinely unsettling

It makes for a jarring back half when events take a turn for the worse. A well-staged sequence on a chat show set is genuinely unsettling, but it seems drafted in from another play entirely.

A scene from Reckless Pic Lunaria Ltd

Kerri Clarence has excellent presence in the lead role, and responds skilfully to the barrage of scene partners launched at her from all sides of the auditorium.

It is a shame that Rachel’s saccharine characterisation, demanded in part by the script, limits Clarence from finding more dimensions and variety in her character. A touch more grit may have made the pathos more successful and raised the emotional stakes.

Clarence is one of many solid performers in a large ensemble. Other stand-outs include Stewart Kerr as Lloyd, who brings specificity to his archetypical all-American suburban gentleman; Gordon Houston’s prances around the stage with perfect smarm as game show host Tim Timko; and veteran Grads actor Wendy Mathison’s stream of doctors provide a crescendo of absurdity. Her drawn-out, invasive clinical questionnaire into Rachel’s mental state is one of the evening’s highlights.

The strongest element here is Grimes’ inventive in-the-round staging. While this set-up can often feel gimmicky, it works a treat for the madcap journey Rachel finds herself on. There are some lovely stage images crafted using the additional depth and perspectives.

great attention to detail

J. Gordon Hughes’ tactile lighting design compliments the blocking well, and keeps the performance rattling along. Perhaps it was the specific tracks chosen, but the use of minor-key, ‘alternative’ versions of Christmas songs was a rare technical misjudgment, coming off as a touch juvenile.

There is also great attention to detail in the production design. Of particular note is the winking use of confetti snow, or the clever placement of a transportable lantern in the retro television. The consistent quality of Gillian Burnett’s props and Angela Harkness-Robertson’s costumes is impressive; with extra credit going to Harkness-Robertson for a strong turn on-stage, too.

With Reckless, The Grads offer up a slick, considered production of a flawed work; and where it might not be the subversive antidote to festive schmaltz it seeks to be, the energy and enthusiasm expounded in this production are very much in the spirit of the season.

Running time: one hour and 40 minutes
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Wednesday 6 – Saturday 9 December 2017.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details:

Grads website:
Facebook: @edingrads
Twitter: @TheGrads.


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Comments (1)

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  1. Suzanne Senior says:

    I haven’t seen this production, but I don’t understand why this has only got two stars, when the review, apart from the first paragraph, lists more positives than negatives, especially regarding individual performances.