Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky - Review - People's Theatre

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky
People's theatre
11th June 2019

Written by Nick Dear
Directed by Hugh Keegan

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is the story of the friendship between poets Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.  There are four main characters - Edward Thomas, Helen Thomas, Robert Frost and Eleanor Farjeon and the play follows the relationships between these four friends. Though the play is ostensibly about the friendship between Frost and Thomas and the influence they each had on the other's career, for me, the relationship between Helen and Edward seems the strongest thread and Helen's voice the strongest, throughout.

Each character addresses the audience at some point - the first we hear is Helen and her voice throughout is the strongest. Even as she is moved away from Edward's focus she remains steadfast and forthright. Anna Dobson plays the role beautifully - capturing the transition from the joy of the young lover, through the drudgery of motherhood and housekeeping, essentially bringing up the children and running the household alone as Edward pursues his own dreams. Her devotion to Edward shines through even as he pushes her away.

Edward Thomas (Sam Hinton)  is an unhappy man - he doesn't fit comfortably into the world - at odds with his father, labelled failure by him because he does not share his hunger for financial success. Thomas wants to enjoy life as he lives it, not spend life striving in a job he hates in order to get on in society. His affinity is with words and with the land and the countryside. City life stifles him. He makes his living - such as it is writing literary criticisms, biographies, essays, reviews but it takes the friendship with Frost for him to realise he himself could be a poet. And yet still he feels that something is missing. Ironically, having fought against the constraints of city life, and the daily grind of marriage and children, he finally finds purpose by joining the army. And therein he finally breaks Helen's heart.

Robert Frost (Mark Burden) is a more enigmatic character - though he is one of the main characters in the drama I feel  we learn very little the man himself - other than his love for words, and his affection for Thomas, other than this we are given only glimpses into his own private life, snatches of his family history and background.

Finally, we have Eleanor Farjeon (Alison Carr), hopelessly in love with Edward but never more than friends. Their relationship brings light into Edwards life and darkness to Helen’s – she befriends Eleanor to keep an enemy close, and though the two women are friends, Helen is aware perhaps even before Eleanor herself, of the other woman’s love for her husband.  Eleanor is light, apparently carefree, and becomes the confident of Edward and Frost.  Hers is a lonely life, despite her place in society. Both she and Frost feel the loss of Edward keenly.

There are many, many layers to this play – it explores intellect and intelligence, but also emotion, and the nature of love, and expectation, success and failure, and self-worth. It is threaded through with images of nature and the love of the natural world, and the love of words. But also the power of words, both those spoken, and those not, their power to enlighten, and to educate but to also to confuse, to crush and to undermine.  The themes of language and nature are embodied in the stunning set created by Rolf Wojciechowski – with its draped images of distant hills and trees, and skies filled with cloudlike words – some legible and some just a hint of language.

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is a beautifully sad play. A story of love, and loss. The cast portray their characters with such empathy throughout. Lovely performances from everyone involved. Performed in the round, this is an absorbing and intimate experience. As the audience, we switch from being voyeurs of these people's lives to being included in them, and back again.  
Studio productions never disappoint at the People's Theatre. This one takes them to another level.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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