Posts Tagged ‘Nick Dear’

The first word that popped into my head at the close of this play was ‘beautiful’. It was beautiful to look at with its simple evocation of the British countryside. It was beautifully written, closing somewhat appropriately with one of its subject’s poems. The performances were beautifully judged characterisations of real people. It also mentions beautiful Tooting!

Nick Dear’s play tells the story of the relationship between British poet Edward Thomas and American poet Robert Frost. Frost comes to Britain for just three years from 1912 to 1915. He makes his name here and returns to the US more famous that when he left. Thomas reviews Frost and they become friends, enjoying long conversational walks in the countryside. Frost encourages Thomas to write poetry, is in awe of his original prose style and champions him both here and back in the US. Their friendship had a depth and intensity that is extraordinary given they only spent time with one another for two years.

Thomas has a strange relationship with his brittle and passionate wife Helen. When he’s with Frost, he treats her with disdain. She is resentful of his bond with Frost and suspicious of his close relationship with family friend Eleanor Farjeon, who seems obsessed with both Thomas and Frost. Yet they are clearly in love. His relationship with his conventional Welsh father is strained when he quits the Civil Service but repaired when he enlists as an army officer. Less than two years after he enlists and Frost has returned to the US he is killed in action. His real success as a poet under his own name is posthumous.

The play is not chronological, including flash forwards the forties and fifties when Frost returns to the UK. These are fascinating people living at a fascinating time, which Dear has captured perfectly. The depth of characterisation is extraordinary and he doesn’t waste a moment. Richard Eyre’s direction is faultless and Bob Crowley’s design is just a stage of earth with opaque projections and lighting on the brick wall behind. It’s simple but its beautiful. It has been very rewarding to watch the development of both Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in recent years and here they give perfectly judged performances as Edward and Helen. Shaun Dooley has great presence as Frost and Pandora Colin is a delight as Eleanor.

I loved everything about this play and it really doesn’t matter if you know nothing about these people or indeed poetry; the play stands alone as a captivating biographical drama. Unmissable.

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The Olivier auditorium has been ‘dressed’ in distressed dirty cream paper mache. There’s an enormous (and loud!) bell and a light feature with hundreds of bulbs hovering over the stalls. The soundtrack starts whilst you’re still in the foyer.

The first scene, when the creature is ‘born’ is mesmerizing – some of the best physical acting (from Jonny Lee Miller on the night we went) I’ve ever seen. He has a child-like quality and vulnerability as he moves around the stage naked, learning to move and walk.

If you don’t know the book (and I don’t) there is a lack of clarity in the early scenes – it’s not entirely clear that he has been abandoned, that over a year passes while he befriends the blind man, that he is the mystery man who collects stones and cuts wood on the farm. You do understand all of this later, though ironically at a point when the narrative becomes more conventional and a little dull. If the show has a weak point, it’s Nick Dear’s adaptation which fails in competition with the stagecraft.

The production, though, is terrific. It’s all very epic and cinematic (no surprises there then, with Danny Boyle at the helm, joined by some of his movie collaborators) with lots of inventive staging and design, though mostly pleasingly low-tech. There’s fire, pyrotechnics (the sulphur lingers long after the effect!) and dry ice a-go-go and the creature’s make-up is excellent (why no programme credit?). The big bell gets rung, the double revolve gets used and sets and people come up from beneath the stage. Yet despite this, the story does move you and has a lot more depth than any Frankenstein film, with the morals and ethics of the tale to the fore and genuine sympathy for the creature.

Jonny Lee Miller is superb as the creature, such that I simply cannot imagine Benedict Cumberbatch taking the role. Then again, I can’t really see Lee Miller as Victor, a role Cumberbatch plays very well with earnestness and passion. The double casting is a great idea but I was patting myself on the back for choosing it this way round – though I suspect people who’ve seen it the other way around are saying the same, which vindicates the idea even more!

The show fits the Olivier stage like a glove and proves a very welcome addition to the NT’s repertory. It  must be seen by more people, but that does beg the questions of which theatre?

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