Hattie Morahan steps from A Doll’s House to A Dark Sky

In recent years, the 34-year-old has quietly garnered plaudits in both classical stage parts and screen roles – from Nina in The Seagull, to Elinor Dashwood in a TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility

As she steps onto the Almeida stage, Hattie Morahan is fresh from an acclaimed rendition of Nora in A Doll’s House.

In recent years, the 34-year-old has quietly garnered plaudits in both classical stage parts and screen roles – from Nina in The Seagull, to Elinor Dashwood in a TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

Now, she’s playing the wife of poet Edward Thomas in the world premiere of a play by Nick Dear at the Islington theatre.

Helmed by former National Theatre artistic director Richard Eyre, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky portrays Thomas as an enigmatic, complex man racked with frustration and self-doubt. He finally finds his poetic voice through his friendship with American writer Robert Frost, but, just as he realises his dream, dramatically decides to enlist in the First World War, with tragic results.

Morahan plays his “long-suffering” wife Helen, driven to depths of jealousy and grief by her love for a depressive, difficult man who chafed against domestic life with their three children.

“As well as being the first person to bring these characters to life we are all playing real people and have had to make choices as to how much to be informed by that and how to do justice to the real people and the play,” says Morahan, who read Helen Thomas’s memoirs as part of her research.

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“The play is about Edward Thomas’s movement from a ‘hack writer’ of books and reviews to his flowering of creativity through poetry triggered by his friendship with Robert Frost and the outbreak of the war.

“That refracts through the relationships around him. It’s about life love and family.”

A pacifist, Helen can hardly comprehend her husband’s decision to enlist. “He is seeking some kind of purpose to do with his relationship to his country and testing himself as a man but he was all she had ever wanted, she was devastated by his death and had several breakdowns afterwards.”

Stage and screen are certainly in Morahan’s blood – her mother is Juliet Bravo actress Anna Carteret, her father is Jewel in the Crown director Christopher Morahan and her sister Rebecca is also a director.

“My mother very much made the decision to go back to work (after having children). It tormented her and she talks now about feeling guilty but I found it exciting to go and see her in her place of work and see her plays. With hindsight I would have hated to feel she had to give up the thing that made her happy.”

Although she studied at Cambridge University, Morahan was never in doubt that she would follow her mother into acting.

“If I am honest I knew what I wanted to do before university and my time at Cambridge was spent in flight from academia. I just wanted to be on the stage in quite an adolescent way.”

After this job, Morahan pops up in the Brit flick Summer in February opposite Dan Stevens then returns to the Young Vic to reprise her role in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

She says with a part so good and multi-layered “it’s always like an itch you want to continue scratching”.

“I’ve had to put Nora totally to one side so I could put 100 per cent into this new thing but it will be lovely to return to it. It’s a version that felt incredibly fresh and radical and that left audiences freshly moved by a 100-year-old play. It was the most exhilarating job. Even in a five- week run, you continually felt there was more to discover.”

She adds that while she’d be happy to do play after play, her mortgage would be called in: “I don’t really look ahead, I don’t have a five-year plan but if I can continue to do a variety of work that stimulates me emotionally and intellectually and pushes me in different directions that would make me very happy.”

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky runs at the Almeida from today (Thursday) until January 12. Box Office 020 7359 4404 or visit www.almeida.co.uk.