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Dark Earth

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Lucy Formby and David Feltell
We are in the 1690s. Dutch William is on the throne. A Dutch engineer has been hired by an East Anglian consortium to bring his expertise in land reclamation to the Fens.

The problem is that the landowners see only fields on which to graze cattle and sheep or to grow crops. the men and women who take their living from the fish and fowl of the water, the rushes and the peat see things quite differently.

"Dark Earth", Forbes Bramble's play for Eastern Angles, dramatises this triple dilemma. Jacob de Vries knows that the land his skill and that of his colleagues drain benefits everyone; why should it be different here? Robert Warburton and John Sylham, two of the partners in the reclamation, want to see a return on the money they have laid out in the project.

The Fen dwellers, chief among them blacksmith Clara Hare, just want the life which they and their ancestors have lived for millennia to continue. Then there's the vicar, Mr Emms. His interest in what the preliminary excavations have revealed leads him to question the Bible's timeline, for some of the artefacts obviously predate the Roman period.

Add in the Warburtons' elegant daughter and wastrel son, de Vries' daughter rebelling against her parents' Calvinism and latching on to young Peter Dade in the process, a might-have-been romance between Sylham and Hare – and you have all the ingredients of a community play.

Director Naomi Jones and designer Nicky Bunch do well by their cast, with considerable help from Polly Beestone's puppetry, which reminds us that what is below and above these humans battling out their several problems has its own timeless qualities. Of the large cast, Carl Perkins as Warburton, David Worth as de Vries, Lucy Formby as daughter Katje and David Feltell as Dade stand out.