Review – Between the Dark Earth and Light Sky – Almeida Theater

by

A new play about a poet and the language of poetry – a tempting thing , I tell you: a new play, a play with enough content to mine that it could hit greatness; and me invited along to a bloggers night, a night where I could sit with other hardcore theater fans and discuss and dissect to my heart’s content. Really, I couldn’t ask for much more (other than a slightly less chaotic day at work so I could properly enjoy a glass of wine beforehand).

As it turns about ,the premise was even better that I’d hoped: the play was set in rural England before World War I (a time that bred both great poets and excellent poetry) and also featured Robert Frost (Shaun Dooley) as a friend of Edward Thomas (Pip Carter), the poet around whom the play centered. Having Frost as a character was a real treat for me: while I considered him a banal writer, I liked seeing an American character featuring prominently in this play. It was not just a writer I was familiar with; it was a chance to see through the play my own experience in the world, as an American living in England, with all of the foreignness of viewpoint and experience.

As it turned out, this was one of my greatest joys in the play; my stranger’s eyes, spoken through someone else’s mouth, with the distance of a century making little difference to the similarities of national origin (perhaps the author holds the blame for this). I also revelled in the discussions of language and poetry, of what makes a meter ring, of dissonances and subtlety and what you need to leave behind. This caught my mind and tossed it like a bird into the air; I left finding myself, among other things, willing to reconsider my fleering attitude regarding Frost.

But Edward Thomas: well. As a character, he was written so as to be impossible to like or even feel respect for. He was self-indugent; moody; rude and disrespectful toward his wife; self-pitying; willing to utterly ignore the suffering of others. Points to Nick Dear for making him life-like if this was indeed how he was: I found him insufferable and found it hard not to shout at his wife to kick the bastard out and get on with trying to make something positive out of her life. Thank God we were told at the beginning that he died young; I found myself getting rather eager for it to happen as the play went on. While this play was, to me, a success for the thoughts it provoked and its depiction of rural English life before the war, I find it hard to believe it was entirely successful given that, now that it is over, it is Frost’s poetry I will go back and read.  Ah well: the American regional reps will no doubt embrace it eagerly.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 20th, 2012. It continues through January 12th.)

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