Writer: Forbes Bramble
Director: Naomi Jones
Reviewer: Flip Miller
Dark Earth could be likened to a cross between Time Team and a gritty Mills and Boon novel. Telling the story of the drainage of the Fens, made all the more poignant that the production is being performed where the action would have taken place in 1690. While the play is set in the Fens, there are some cleverly interwoven subplots that Forbes Bramble has introduced. All seemingly separate but at the end they are all cleverly brought together.
Jonni Hilton as Emms the local vicar is a latter day Tony Robinson, obsessed by the archaeology of the area the audience believes his zeal for protecting the area due to the historic nature of his finds. Bramble introduces an interesting concept – should you give a Christian burial to a person who died before Christianity was created? Lucy Formby as Katja De Vries and David Feltwell (Peter Dade) have some lovely moments as the star-crossed lovers. Their little scenes of stolen time together are very poignant.
Superstition and suspicion plays a major part in Dark Earth. Clara Hare, played by Rebecca Owen Fisher, is the local witch and seen by the Partners to be the main protagonist against the Drainage project. Owen Fisher plays the part with a sensuality. Her interactions with John Sylham played by Peter Unwin are particularly sensitive. Their chemistry on stage is very touching.
The puppetry by Polly Beestone adds a nice diversion to the main action on stage. Of particular note is the hare – a symbol of witchcraft. Natalia Piotrowska handles the puppet expertly, the movements are so natural and subtle.
There are 34 local cast members in the production and at times projection can be a little quiet. The production by using a marquee also comes with its own problems, with several playing areas it can be a little hard depending on where you are sat to know or hear what is being performed.
Writer Forbes Bramble sticks to using the language of the Fens and cleverly interweaves this into the action, without alienating the audience. Director, Naomi Jones, must have wished she could order the weather for every performance. The rain lashing down and beating a steady rhythm on the marquee’s roof made the whole piece even more dramatic and atmospheric. It is another very accomplished piece of theatre from the Eastern Angles Theatre Company.
Runs until 22nd September