In a collaborative event between Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe and Evesham Festival of Words, the peasant poet John Clare was revived for one night only in the Almonry Museum, Evesham, last Thursday.
Written by Stephen Loveless and performed on the stage by Robin Hillman, the evening promised to be a feast of poetic brilliance and historical wonder.
Now Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe Committee Member, Daniel Burton, shares his thoughts with us on what was undoubtedly an informative and emotional evening.
8th March 1860. John Clare, peasant poet and the son of a farm labourer, has been committed to the General Lunatic Asylum in Northampton after years of ‘poetic prosing’, confused and unsure about his identity.
3rd May 2018. Robin Hillman brings Clare back to life for a 21st century audience with a thought-provoking performance as the peasant poet himself. Evesham’s Almonry Museum provided the perfect stage to welcome Clare to modern-day England, surrounded by historical artefacts in a beautiful venue.
Delivering his performance with passion, Hillman enabled the audience to gain an insight into the mind of one of the 19th century’s most important and influential poets. He effortlessly switched from exuberance to humility and you really got the sense that you were having a conversation with Clare as a result of Hillman’s performance. You could say it was like having Clare in the room with you!
Anyone unfamiliar with Clare’s poetry was treated to a fantastic lesson! Hillman blended in Clare’s poetic inspirations, namely nature and birds, with the poet’s sense of confusion using imagery and his delivery. He also captured the essence of the difficulties that Clare would have endured throughout his life and career.
Balancing the need to write poetry and the need to make money for his family took its toll on Clare. He had difficulties with his mental health and even claimed himself to be Lord Byron and Shakespeare on several occasions, according to historical records. Hillman portrayed this emotional turmoil with great confidence – every member of the audience felt a strong, deep connection with him and, importantly, with Clare and his situation.
Hillman’s performance was made possible by the research and incredible writing of award-winning writer Stephen Loveless. During a Q&A session after his performance, Hillman revealed that even though the script for ‘I am John Clare’ was written fairly quickly, it was only after the weeks and weeks of intense research Loveless carried out beforehand. This attention to detail and facts, Hillman also revealed, was how he was able to get into Clare’s mind and put on such a great performance.
Opening with Hillman/Clare playing the fiddle whilst making his entrance, ‘I am John Clare’ took place surrounded by an array of historical artefacts and instruments. The location took the audience to the days of Clare, almost putting them ‘into’ the scene themselves, as though they were meeting Clare in person back in 19th century England.
With a charismatic and talented performance by Robin Hillman and the perfect location in the Almonry Museum, ‘I am John Clare’ was educational and emotional all rolled into one fantastic evening. It was a pleasure to attend the event and learn about the struggles and personality of one of England’s poetic geniuses.
Review written by Daniel Burton.