Edward Thomas is a name some may know, but many more probably don't. The travails of his life as a working writer and aspiring poet are conveyed with deep consideration in award-winning writer Nick Dear and director Richard Eyre’s The Dark Earth and the Light Sky.
Set in Gloucestershire’s picturesque countryside one summer in 1913, the play tells the story of downhearted, young Edward Thomas and his introduction to budding American poet Robert Frost. The two form an inseparable relationship, despite the objections of Thomas’ beleaguered wife.
For Thomas and Frost, it becomes a time of renewed inspiration, experimenting with verse and structure. Thomas is the first critic to approve of Frost’s work and, in turn, Frost encourages Thomas to move from essay writing to the more cadenced form of poetry.
The play skilfully manoeuvres between their story and that of Thomas' wife Helen and his dear friend Eleanor. The two women take turns telling the audience first-hand accounts of their lives with Edward. While Helen shares a more troubled picture of him, recalling his attempt at suicide and his frequent banishments from the family, Eleanor remembers a softer side, acting as both his editor and his confidant.
The culmination of accounts pulls together an earnest, at times hopeful and ultimately sorrowful portrayal of one man’s short, but impactful life. Nick Dear, famed for writing the theatre adaptation of 'Frankenstein' at The National, gives heart and soul to each of the characters. His unadorned storytelling is beautifully brought to life by director Richard Eyre, former Director of The National, along with Tony award-winning designer Bob Crowley. Together they give viewers the opportunity to individually piece together the narratives amid strikingly simple, yet effective backdrops. The cast are also convincing, particularly Pip Carter as the oppressive, sometimes even cruel, Edward Thomas and Shaun Dooley as an emboldened Robert Frost.
The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is both an informative and moving chronicle of one man’s desire to be something; something that he could never quite figure out. In an era where society governed life’s journey, Edward accomplished much. This is a worthy story from a worthy production team.
'The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’ at The Almeida Theatre is running through 12 January. Evening performances at 7.30pm, Saturday matinee at 2.30pm, Wednesday matinees on 28 November and 9 January at 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£32.