The Fool at #57 Cock Tavern Theatre

Is Bond’s violence vindicated?

Edward Bond season

As fringe theatres go, the Cock Tavern certainly bats above its weigh; for a small, slightly off-beat venue, it plays host to some fantastic work. The Fool, one of six plays in the new Edward Bond season, is no exception.

It’s not easy to get a grip on quite what Bond wants his audience to get out of this play, and I left The Fool feeling somewhat bewildered. Centred around the life and gradual demise of the poet John Clare,  Bond paints with broad brush strokes and leaves no one unblamed. Whether it’s the gentry, those in religious authority or narrow-minded creatives, the bulk of the action is focused on casting aspersions somewhere or other.

Bond aims and fires well, and there are some particularly memorable scenes: Ian Crowe as the parson is mugged and eventually stripped completely, in a scene that reminds us of Saved. Initially we’re pleased when the country peasants put him in his place, but as the depravity of their actions increases, we begin to regret our initial complicity; his flesh is pulled and prodded, and he is told that he’s covered in ‘stolen flesh’.

Ben Crispin’s harrowing portrayal of John Clare, confined to an asylum after having driven himself mad with economic and creative frustrations, is also well-observed and disturbing. As he gradually loses the power of speech, we see the dangers faced by a writer with no financial means. Bond makes plain the suffering Clare is forced to endure.

Bond’s anger is admirable – it’s rare to find someone quite so passionate and so prepared to see through their artistic vision. (Bond also directs the season). As his ‘Five Little Essays’ printed in the programme indicate, there are few actions or institutions that escape his vituperation. In ‘Me’, he says the following:

Last year the Roayl Court told me that I was prevented from making contact with an audience by my moral purtiy. Have I changed or has the Royal Court? It does not do for the Royal Court to shit on its audience. It should leave that to the National and the RSC. They can afford to do it more copiously.

His rage is clear, but, like with The Fool, it’s not evident where it’s directed. It’s not obvious what he means when he repeats the Court’s criticism that he is unable to make ‘contact with an audience by [his] moral purity’, but perhaps this is telling. If it means that his moral purity prevents an audience from responding to and connecting with his work, then the Court are wrong. If, however, this suggests that an audience members are not able to make contact with him because they are unsure which aspect of his wide-ranging outrage he’s most concerned about, then I’m with them.

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