The life of 19th-century "peasant poet" John Clare is employed rigorously by Edward Bond to the ends of social critique. In the first act, Clare's involvement is shown in thefts by the barefoot locals from gentry who complain of being called away from dinner to deal with such felons. In the second, his brief status as the darling of London's haut monde is curtailed by his refusal to excise such earlier events from his verse and stick to nymphs; he falls anew into poverty, illness and mental decrepitude, still compulsively composing.
Although the social commentary is more relevant now than when the play was written in 1975, its blatancy and single-mindedness remain mildly off-putting; try as we might to view Clare's decline as a human tragedy, Bond makes plain that its roots are in economics and class iniquities – hard fare for the supposedly post-ideological '90s. The Wedding Collective put their energies entirely behind the play's challenge – most notably Sue Maund as Clare's wife, starving while he scribbles about a mistress from years ago – but, guilty though I am for thinking it, the result still feels like a work out of time.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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