Blown away by the quite phenomenal Nick Dear play The Dark Earth and The Light Sky about Edward Thomas, now showing at the Almeida Theatre on its first run.
I wrote about Thomas in The Green Road into the Trees – indeed in some ways the book was a centenary version of his own book, The Icknield Way, when he took the same route in 1912. Nick Dear has a fine phrase for Thomas’s travel books which he describes as ‘maps of his soul’, rather than more conventional guides, and as a result did not sell.
Dear does a few things exceptionally well: he doesn’t sentimentalise Thomas at all – he often comes across as a monster in the way he treats his wife Helen in particular; the play does not climax with Thomas’s tragic death in the First World War which often over-colours accounts of his life – this is the chronicle of a death foretold; he shows how the friendship between Thomas and Robert Frost was pivotal for both men’s poetry – Thomas started publishing and Frost got recognition.
But above all it focuses on Helen, who for me had always been a shadowy presence. She comes across as a tragic figure, quite beautifully played by Hattie Morahan, dealing with her husband’s depression and death wish with alternate light and sadness.
In The Green Road into the Trees, I quoted the lines of Thomas that haunted me from his own account of my journey: ‘I could not find a beginning or an ending to the Icknield Way. It is thus a symbol of mortal things with their beginnings and ends always in immortal darkness.’