'Two roads diverged in a… wood', runs 'The Road Not Taken', Robert Frost's most famous poem. But in Nick Dear's play, superbly but subtly directed by Richard Eyre, there were two men in that wood and it wasn't necessarily Frost who took the less-travelled path.
Edward Thomas was a jobbing writer when he befriended the American poet in London; Frost helped him towards poetry, although despite their shared worship of nature, they were very different poets. Thomas enlisted, dying in France in 1917 while his friend grew famous and old.
Dear flouts chronology and the fourth wall, letting his characters confide in us, the unborn audience, and so giving anachronistic voice to the women: Thomas's mistreated wife, Helen, and the writer Eleanor Farjeon, who is both salve and abrasive in the Thomases' complicated coupling.
On Bob Crowley's set, stark as a poem or a trench, Pip Carter is wonderful as Edward, a touchy yet oddly loveable depressive, as is Hattie Morahan as his fiery yet devoted wife. All that doubling – men and women, past and present, nature and civilization – doesn't preclude loneliness; far from it.
As Helen says, with unconscious irony, it's so easy to say the wrong thing. The question hanging in the air like gunsmoke is whether saying the wrong thing is better or worse than doing the wrong thing: ending friendships, failing lovers, or going to war and getting oneself killed.