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Review: The Fool, Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn

PUBLISHED: 13:24 20 October 2010

Scenes from the play, The Fool

Scenes from the play, The Fool

Archant

In his programme notes for The Fool, Edward Bond writes “Drama deals with the relation between self and society.” The Fool tells the story of one particular self – the Victorian poet John Clare – and his battle to fit in.

Set in a small farming village in East Anglia, Bond’s play (which he is also directing here as part of the Edward Bond Season) opens in 1815 with unrest between poor farm labourers and land owners. Tempers rise and riots break out: villagers get into fights, pillage from the rich and strip the clothing off the backs of well-to-do gentlemen. John Clare hovers on the outside of this crowd – preferring to spend his time chasing women – his fiancée Patty and his first love, Mary. His poetry becomes successful and all seems well, until his slide into madness and miserable final years spent in a mental asylum.

Ben Crispin as the poet Clare is both disarming and disconcerting: his eyes are piercing and his voice earnest. The character’s loss of words at the end of the play is rendered particularly poignant. Crispin manages to communicate well Clare’s feelings of isolation and the pain of being an outcast.

Patty, his wife, is movingly evoked by the spirited Rosanna Miles. Miles paints a picture of a loyal wife, weary of living with a man she cannot understand. The scenes between her, Clare and his patron, Mrs Emmerson, are fluently directed – in a production which is apt to feel juddery on other occasion. A scene in which John Clare hallucinates, for example, looks and feels amateurish.

Clare’s first love, Mary, is a sinuous girl: Rebecca Smith-Williams oozes vitality from every limb. Her soft, East Anglian accent only adds to the effect. Special mention should go to Ian Crowe who was pious and pompous as the village vicar and yet when called upon to play a victim succeeds in creating one of the most harrowing and distressing scenes I’ve watched in years – so disturbing it almost challenges the audience to intervene.

The Fool is a play full of laughter – grotesque, cruel, mocking laughter. There is nothing funny about the events Bond lays before us. His programme notes mention that the Royal Court said he had too much “moral purity”. There is a touch of that to The Fool. Undoubtedly the play has powerful moments but the production was overly long (at 2hr 45mins) and, at times, as po-faced as the pompous vicar. Nevertheless, Bond, as ever, creates a memorable and thought-provoking evening.

Director: Edward Bond

3 stars

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