A little too hard perhaps, as everything is taken at full pelt and cries out for a little light and shade. The psychological states of the playwright’s characters are usually difficult to discern and especially so here. One can’t help feeling this is an acting out of ideas, as the trio’s thoughts and feelings rise and fall through a tense and climactic scenario.
A young African man, an illegal immigrant, has broken into a woman’s house. She chooses to protect him and try to spirit him away to safety. This is some 65 years into the future and the police have evolved into the army. A people trafficker adds a menacing presence.
The device of a dummy standing in for the black man (while the actor voices his contributions from afar) may look like a wilful conceit but allows a scene of some ferocity to take place, reminiscent of The Sea’s mad draper, as fabric flies in all directions. It’s as shocking and brutal as anything Bond’s written, an indication that his powers are far from waning.
It’s something of a disgrace that The Fool, a major work, on a par with Bingo and Lear, has had to wait until now to be revived, 35 years after Peter Gill’s Royal Court production.
A significant strength is having Bond himself, an experienced director of his own plays, at the helm.
The Fool begins in 1815, with a post-Waterloo England in the throes of industrial and agricultural turmoil. The well-trodden territory of class unrest is explored, as a rural community, freed from the Napoleonic threat, struggles to shake off the tyranny of feudalism. The iconic scene where a frenzied mob rob and strip the local pastor, all but clawing the flesh from his bones, is deeply disturbing.
What emerges from this whirlpool of desperation is the story of the skirt-chasing, poet-peasant John Clare, whose brief peak declines into the “grotesque oblivion” of madness.
Such is the rigour of Bond’s direction that he raises the Cock’s festival to a new height. At times he slows the action almost to a halt, allowing the actors to fully inhabit the moment, and no opportunity passes by untapped.
Bond has a terrific cast to work with. Ben Crispin is hypnotic as the poet and, as his wife Patty, both hectoring and vulnerable, Rosanna Miles brims with tears in her silent suffering. James Kenward, who impressed earlier in the season in Olly’s Prison, is excellent as the doomed Darkie, as is the willowy Rebecca Smith-Williams as Clare’s “other wife” Mary.
This is undoubtedly a highlight of the season so far, an evening that is likely to leave a deep impression.
The Cock Tavern's Edward Bond Season continues until 13 November 2010 and will also feature Red, Black and Ignorant and the world premiere of a brand new Bond play. For tickets and further information visit: CockTavernTheatre.com
Read the musicOMH review of the first two plays in the season: Olly's Prison and The Pope's Wedding