ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The Dark Earth and the Light Sky
Edward Thomas wrote about nature and the English countryside and some twentieth century poets have acknowledged their debt to him. Ted Hughes said, “He is the father of us all,” and Seamus Heaney, “Thomas walks into English poetry like a soothsayer, his pastoral lyric takes on a tragic dimension, the close-up naturalism is radiated with moral consequence.”
The play opens in 1899 when Edward (Pip Carter) marries Helen Noble (Hattie Morahan). We see something of Thomas’ Welsh civil servant father Philip Thomas (Ifan Huw Dafydd) who is very critical of his son’s desire to relinquish the Civil Service and live in the countryside. As Edward tells his father that he wants to give up his career, his father says, “This reminds me of the day you threw the walking race at school.” Apparently Thomas was way out in front and didn’t finish in first place, maybe because he was shy. The memory of the incident well sums up the carping relationship between Philip Thomas and the eldest of his six sons.
The picture Nick Dear paints is of a depressive man who scraped a living as a journalist and author of literary criticism while his wife Helen brought up their three children on their smallholding in Petersfield, Hampshire. More involved with Robert Frost (Shaun Dooley) than his family, he describes his isolation, “Home is just a place to dry my boots.” He and Robert Frost share memories of a momentary desire to take their own life and Frost persuades Thomas to express himself in poetry. Poet Eleanor Farjeon (Pandora Colin) is a friend of the Thomas family and in 1958 publishes a memoir of her friendship with Edward, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years.
Bob Crowley’s beautiful set is an impressionistic glimpse of the blue sky meeting the dark ground at the horizon with little furniture intruding on this delicately lit backdrop. The costume is in period and Helen Thomas will be daringly unconventional.
By the interval Thomas has shocked his pacifist wife by joining the army. He dies of a heart attack when a shell goes off near him at the battle of Arras in 1917. A tender moment sees his wife and his Eleanor Farjeon opening the cardboard box of his possessions sent back from France. In 1928, Robert Frost comes to England and quarrels with Helen about her biography of her husband.
Pip Carter conveys Edward Thomas’s isolation and awkwardness well and Hattie Morahan, his frustrated wife. The turning point in Thomas’ life is portrayed as the friendship with Robert Frost a relationship which he found more satisfying than his marriage. Shaun Dooley’s Robert Frost is likeable, full of bluster and talks to Thomas about his coming to live near him in New England.
The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, while performed very well and convincingly, left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction common to my reaction to many of the biographical plays about famous authors or artists. A play never seems the perfect medium to assess a man’s work and biographical trivia intrudes into the essence of why we need to remember Edward Thomas, for his beautiful poetry. Should a play be on a mission to introduce the poetry of Edward Thomas to many who have never read him?
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.