THE DARK EARTH AND THE LIGHT SKY
by Nick Dear.
Almeida Theatre Almeida Street N1 1TA To 12 January 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm, mats Sat 2.30pm; 28 Nov, 9 Jan 2.30pm.
no performance 24-26, 31 Dec.
Audio-described 15 Dec 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 11 Dec 7.30pm
Runs: 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7359 4404 (24hr).
Review Carole Woddis 16 November.
Women come up well in Nick Dear’s Edward Thomas resurrection.
What an old curmudgeon was poet Edward Thomas, now regarded as one of the fathers of the modernist poetry movement.
Frustrated if successful literary critic, discontented husband and father, Nick Dear has nonetheless made something quietly memorable from a tortured personality who only turned to poetry after a life-changing encounter with the then young American literary lion, Robert Frost.
Directed by Richard Eyre, whose touch for these bio-dramas seems unerring (his production of Nicolas Wright’s van Gogh portrait Vincent in Brixton righty hovered-up awards), the beauty is in its sparsity.
Very little furniture encumbers this production. The action is all in the talk, of literature, poetry, Nature and its discontents, against Bob Crowley’s luminously simple pastoral cycloramas.
You can see why Ted Hughes was later to claim Thomas as `the father of us all’. There’s a similar deep introspection and intense reverence for the natural world.
Thomas, in Dear’s portrait, finds solace from his tormenting inner life through endless walking in London, Hampshire and later Dymock in Gloucestershire.
In between he berates his wife Helen – another barn-storming portrayal of marital insensitivity if not downright mental cruelty by Hattie Morahan – who nonetheless stands four square behind `her man’.
Dear’s portrayal gives us a strangely affecting portrait of a diffident man who against the odds finally found himself in war and redefined the meaning of patriotism as a modest but deep love of the English countryside than any hatred of the enemy.
Clearly a sympathetic portrait, Dear doesn’t disguise its subject’s failings or those of the legendary Frost whose relationship with Thomas seems to border on the homo-erotic, if sublimated, but nonetheless almost obsessive.
In his insistence on `manhood’ and woods, interestingly, Frost seemed to have anticipated the strange Iron Man men’s movement that also placed `going into the woods’ as a central totem of male identity.
If Frost does not come out of this portrayal particularly well, Dark Earth certainly sends one scurrying back to Thomas’ poetry as well as Helen’s account of her marriage and memoirs by her best friend Eleanor Farjeon – another Thomas devotee – after Thomas’s death in 1917.
Edward Thomas: Pip Carter.
Helen Thomas: Hattie Morahan.
Philip Thomas: Ifan Huw Dafydd.
Robert Frost: Shaun Dooley.
Bott/Major Lushington: Dan Poole.
Eleanor Farjeon: Pandora Colin.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Design: Bob Crowley.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: John Leonard.
Dialect: Jill McCullough.
Voice: Gareth Valentine.
Movement: Scarlett Mackmin.
Assistant director: Ed Viney.
World Premiere of The Dark Earth and the Light Sky at the Almeida Theatre London 8 November 2012.