'The Dark Earth and the Light Sky' review or 'Overcompensating much?'

'The Dark Earth and the Light Sky', Nick Dear
Almeida Theatre, Thursday 16th November
Written for The Ham and High


Edward Thomas' poetry did not receive critical recognition before his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917. But he's sure as heck appreciated today. Ted Hughes once pronounced: 'He is the father of us all.' And Nick Dear (he of 'Frankenstein' fame) is such a fan, he's written a play about him; 'The Dark Earth and the Light Sky'.

The play's structure is unusual and we learn about Thomas' death long before the conclusion. Thus, it's down to the characters to drive this piece forward. Although the play focuses on Thomas' struggle to beat his depression – to write and to live – the script relies heavily on narrative monologues from those close to him.

These monologues offer real insight into Thomas' life and work – but such consistent distancing makes it had to sink into the play. Hattie Morahan, as Thomas' neglected wife, delivers her monologues with extraordinary colour and zip. But whilst Morahan is a superb actress she sounds a little shrill. It feels like she's over-compensating for a slightly flat script.

Although Dear's play certainly tracks Thomas' (Pip Carter) spells of depression, his quiet connection with nature never quite materialises. We are shown the dark side of this poet but his lighter, more sensitive side stays in the shadows.

The relationship between Thomas and the robust poet Robert Frost (Shaun Dooley) – a great friend and fan of Thomas - is particularly disappointing. They bark and grumble together but these two great minds never really meet. Late on, Frost extols Thomas' poetry and his exquisite use of rhythm; 'Do you know how hard this is to do?' Frost all but screams us into submission.

Richard Eyre's production is typically elegant, Bob Crowley's sparse set lit up by a beautiful spectrum of natural light. But it is only in the final scene, when Carter recites Thomas's tremblingly delicate poem, 'Lights Out', that one really connects with this incredible talent.

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