Theatre review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky

Posted on: 05 December 2012 by Agatha Cheng

Laurence Green reviews Nick Dear’s new play on the life of Edward Thomas in an era of change and destruction.

Mention the name Edward Thomas and you would be forgiven for responding with a blank expression for although this undeservedly neglected Welsh poet was around at roughly the same time as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen his work was not anti-war but pastoral, drawing on his love and affection for the countryside.

Now Nick Dear’s abstonishing new play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky (Almeida Theatre), directed by Richard Eyre, aims to put that right by providing an illuminating insight into the life of this enigmatic and complex character in an era of change and destruction.

Deep in the Hampshire countryside Edward Thomas scrapes a living writing book reviews; disaffected husband exhausted father and tormented writer.

Then in 1913 he meets American poet Robert Frost and everything changes. As their friendship blossoms Edward writes, emerging from his cocoon of self-doubt into one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. But, on the verge of success, he makes the drastic decision to enlist and fight in the Great War, confounding his friends and family, and Thomas’s remarkable four year flowering as a poet came to an abrupt end when he was killed in Arras in 1917. draws on letters and memoirs to chronicle the last years of a troubled and troublesome spirit and those who knew him and, despite moving back and forth in time, this play about passion and art and earth and madness ends up by being emotionally stirring. There is one particularly striking scene in which the poet is seen cradling his crying baby in one arm and, holding a pistol with his free hand as he contemplates suicide.

Pip Carter is perfect in the role of Edward Thomas, a writer shadowed of his children, while Hattie Morahan is deeply moving as his free-spirited wife Helen, willingly submitting herself to her often cruelly unresponsive husband, and Shaun Dooley fully convinces as Thomas’s inspiring American counterpart , Robert Frost, another penurious, testily married soul. Strong support is provided by Pandora Colin as the spinsterish children’s writer, Eleanor Farjeon who also loves Thomas, and Ifan Huw Dafydd as Thomas’s down to earth father Philip who only wants his son to have a proper job.

Bob Crowley’s simple but atmospheric set of an earthen floor and blue and cloudy sky, starlit as a tangled forest, conjures up a realistic image would leave his family to go on long walks and which provided the only way he could find a measure of peace.

Certainly a work which lingers in the mind long after the final curtain.

Runs until January 12.

Box office: 020 7359 4404

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