Theatre review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky at the Almeida Theatre

11:46 21 November 2012

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky at the Almeida Theatre. Picture: Nobby Clark

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky at the Almeida Theatre. Picture: Nobby Clark

©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Evocative telling of First World War-era poet Nick Dear’s last years is as much about his wife Helen, writes Julia Rank

Nick Dear’s biographical play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky charts the last few years of Edward Thomas’s life, in which he finally realised his ambition to be a poet, writing his entire body of 143 poems in the three years before he was killed in the First World War at the age of 39 on what could be seen as a suicide mission.

Born in Lambeth in 1878, Thomas, who is probably best known for his poem Adlestrop, had his first book published when he was 18, after which he attended Oxford and entered the civil service, which he left after three weeks. His young family lived a precarious existence in Hampshire as Thomas scraped a living as an essayist and critic while suffering bouts of depression.

Dear’s script certainly doesn’t romanticise Thomas – the poet whom Ted Hughes called ‘The father of us all’ ignored his own children and was crushingly insensitive towards his wife, Helen (he comments that he wouldn’t want to confuse her by being too nice). Pip Carter imbues this contradictory figure with palpable nerviness, obsessive about preserving nature and bent on self-destruction, exemplified in the scene when he holds a baby in one arm and a pistol in the other.

Hattie Morahan convincingly portrays unwavering devotion as the put-upon Helen. Shaun Dooley is a robust presence as fellow poet and kindred spirit Robert Frost, a gung-ho American with all the forthrightness that Thomas lacked. There’s also good support from Pandora Colin as Thomas’s spinsterish handmaiden, the children’s writer Eleanor Farjeon, and Ifan Huw Dafydd as Thomas’s quintessentially Victorian father.

Richard Eyre’s evocative and understated production set on a soil-covered stage is pleasingly simple and ultimately as much about Helen as it is about Thomas – as well as delving into his poems, it would be fascinating to read her memoirs.

* The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is at the Almeida Theatre until January 12.

Sign up for our news alerts today!

Our editors' picks for the day's top news delivered to your inbox or phone.

Sign up for email alerts Sign up for mobile alerts
1
2 3 4 5 6
7

Latest Stories from SNAP.PA

We look at the big names in the world of sport, music, fashion, TV and film that most influence these islands.

Read more

Paul Bettany has said playing an on-screen character in the latest Marvel film means working harder than when he was simply providing a voice.

Read more

Emmerdale’s Ryan Hawley thinks Robert Sugden’s feelings for Aaron Livesy are purely superficial.

Read more

Promoted content

Established in 1987, Tucci is one of the North's premier stores for branded clothing, footwear and accessories.

Save up to 70% on designer brands for Men and Women, including G-Star, Diesel, French Connection, Firetrap and many more….our sale is now on.

[Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images]

It’s the new year and you’re looking forward to booking your summer holidays - but how do sunny getaways change when you’ve got children?

Top Stories

Quizzes

Adrian Chiles is no longer ITV's main man... so why not test your knowledge of some of his (and others') greatest gaffes? (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

With news of presenter Adrian Chiles’ sacking by ITV, it’s a good time to remember some of the most memorable punditry blunders.

Read more
[Image by Gary Tallowin]

In which we remember the stations that have gone before...

Read more
£50million Fernando Torres and former Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglous are two of the biggest transfer flops in recent Premier League history

The transfer window is a time for optimisim, but it doesn’t always work out for the best...

Read more