The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, Almeida Theatre, London
Friday 16 November 2012
The beautiful poetry of Edward Thomas – ostensibly pastoral but
often leading us to the mysterious, unsettling edges of
consciousness – came in a late spurt of creativity.
He wrote his first poem in 1914, at the age of 36, after years of influential reviewing and assorted literary hackwork. In April 1917, he was killed at the battle of Arras when the vacuum left by a passing German shell literally sucked the life out of his body.
The fact that he eventually found his vocation has been attributed to the encouragement of the American poet, Robert Frost, with whom he struck up a close friendship in 1913. A married family man old enough to avoid the call-up, Thomas not only volunteered but insisted on going to the front line.
In Nick Dear's sensitive, insightful new play, there's a striking moment where we see the poet cradling a crying baby in one arm while his free hand toys with a revolver. The War makes him realise that the English countryside is “not genuinely mine unless I am prepared to protect it”. But did it also give this complex figure, dogged by self-doubt and depression, the opportunity to fulfil a deep pre-existing death wish?
The form of Dear's play – in which the enigmatic protagonist is viewed from the discrepant perspectives of those closest to him – powerfully pinpoints the paradox that Thomas was a man who inspired the love of which he was himself incapable.
Pip Carter superbly conveys his haunted near-solipsism and the almost comically brusque and inactive detachment with which registers his untoward effects on his sorely tried wife Helen (a damaged free-spirit in Hattie Morahan's immensely moving performance).
Richard Eyre's spare, exquisitely modulated production is performed on an earth-covered stage, the different landscapes and atmospheres suggested by the wash of Peter Mumford's subtle, lovely lighting against the brick-wall backdrop.
It also negotiates with eloquent fluidity the play's tricky time-scheme with its sudden leaps forward to show us the poet's contested emotional and poetic legacy. As Frost, Shaun Dooley exudes a muscular American confidence in poetry as a career as well as a calling, while Pandora Colin snags the heart as Eleanor Farjeon, Thomas's devoted, permanently virginal supporter.
Perhaps limitingly, for a play where its nature is often discussed, we get to hear only tiny snatches of the poetry until Carter's searching delivery of “Lights Out” brings this clear-eyed compassionate drama to a quietly shattering climax.
To January 12; 0207 359 4404
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by police in Ohio park
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
- 5 Manchester United named Premier League's loudest fans despite late push by Chelsea according to 'Smart Meter' app
Hitler painting sells for 130,000 euros at auction despite controversy over Nazi dictator's artworks
Strictly Come Dancing results: Steve Backshall sent home after dance off with Sunetra Sarker
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked clip of Lana Del Rey rape video
Band Aid 30: 'Do They Know It's Christmas' storms to number one
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Green Party Caroline Lucas interview: 'We could be on the edge of something very big'