Review: The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare, Eastern Angles, St John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare by Eastern Angles;; Richard Sandells as John Clar

The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare by Eastern Angles;; Richard Sandells as John Clare - Credit: Archant

The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare, by Tony Ramsay, April 2-6, St John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, and touring across the East of England until Saturday May 18

The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare by Eastern Angles; Louise Mai Newberry and Richar

The Long Life And Great Good Fortune Of John Clare by Eastern Angles; Louise Mai Newberry and Richard Sandells - Credit: Archant

When psychiatric patient ‘John’ is not absorbed in the music of Neil Diamond he believes himself to be John Clare, the early 19th century so-called Peasant Poet who suffered from severe depression. Richard Sandells brings off the demanding task of portraying the two Johns giving equal weight to the patient himself, whose own tragic story emerges in the course of the play. Sandells moves from one to the other under the watch of Louise Mai Newberry’s ‘Melody’, a psychiatrist not without her problems which overlap those of her patient and owe much to the state of her marriage. Husband ‘Rafe’ is a struggling ideas man for Channel 4 – a strong performance from Henry Devas who doubles up as John Clare’s physician, Dr Fenwick Skrimshire (as was observed, Dickens could not have made up such a name!).

Eight characters lie in the hands of just three actors as they don hats, dresses, bonnets and take up walking sticks to tell the story of the Peasant Poet and his descent into a state of despair and depression. Clare died in 1864 and it has to be wondered if there is any better understanding of depression now than there was then. The modern patient John is bombarded with questions about his behaviour but does not do self-analysis and instead turns the tables on Melody, demanding that if they are to ‘get to know each other better’ then she has to spill a few beans, too.

Director Ivan Cutting does his usual flawless job of moving the cast deftly around simple but effective staging. There was much to think about on the way home.

Carol Twinch


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