Saturday, 12 March 2016

Enclosed! John Clare, Poet - Trio Literati

Harriet Beach writes:
I didn’t know a lot about John Clare before Trio Literati’s Enclosed! John Clare, Poet. While scanning through the LitFest 2016 programme I noticed the event, and was intrigued by how Maggie Mash, Jane Oakshott and Richard Rastall would incorporate poetry, storytelling and music into a homogenous performance. I can’t have been the only one to ask myself that question, as audience members were arriving before the doors had even opened. Just 10 minutes before the performance began the dedicated LitFest team found themselves setting out additional rows of chairs!

Opening scene                         Photos Richard Wilcocks

Richard Rastall
Jane Oakshott
Jonathan Drummond, Eleanor Rastall


Trio Literati, plus musical counterparts, sang their way on to the stage. Their arrival was so animated that I was surprised when they brandished what looked to be scripts. Initially I wasn’t sure what to think but, reminding myself that poetry reading was a key part of the evening, put the thought aside. As the words of Clare’s poetry crept in, however, the books became props rather than prompts to my eyes. Leafing through pages gave the air of storytelling, and this, combined with the intimate venue, took me back to the comforting feeling of being read to as a child.

And like a child with a good book, I became engrossed in the life of our protagonist. Trio Literati used the tale of John Clare’s life as a framework for his poetry, providing plenty of information but without ever growing didactic. On the contrary, humorous elements kept the audience on side throughout. Particularly well-received were an anecdote about Clare’s mother, who was called upon to recover the original copies of Clare’s manuscripts from would-be-exploitative publishers via no less than a fist to the face, and references to Clare’s appreciation of the “intellectual challenge” offered by the bars and brothels of 19th century London.

Music, too, contributed to a varied pace. I glimpsed some audience comments, and soprano Eleanor Rastall, accompanied by Jonathan Drummond, delighted watchers with characterised performances of contemporary music. Her final piece, ‘Here we meet, too soon to part’ (with words by Clare and music by Rossini) was particularly evocative, and moved the audience in showing the anguish Clare faced at the end of his life.

John Clare’s voice came alive not just through his poetry, but via readings from a journal he wrote upon his trek home to Northamptonshire, post-escape from High Beach Asylum (Essex), where he had been taken into care. Following the performance, Maggie Mash commented that the journal had been a fantastic source to work with. Using Clare’s own words, the Trio described the exhaustion he felt whilst walking, but his reluctance to go into an inn because he had no money, or even to sleep in the barn nearby because revellers were still awake and might notice him. Such an image felt painfully close to the reality of many who live without shelter today.

Later, in the same journal, he added that he continued walking despite his pain, for “being ashamed to sit down in the street”. Again, careful selection of excerpts humanised Clare and showed how such terrible circumstances can swallow up even those we now consider great. Similarly, a turbulent rendition of ‘The Flood’ at the end of the first half reminded the audience that we share some of Clare’s own experiences. “On roars the flood - all restless to be free / Like trouble wandering to eternity” evoked unbridled floodwaters, a poignant reminder of last December’s events.


The performance gathered emotional pace throughout, climaxing with John Clare’s distress as he suffered in the grip of mental illness. Audience members wondered aloud whether he might not have lived a happier life had he been born today. That, we will never know. What is certain, though, is that many people, myself included, will have left wanting to know even more about the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet and his work.


Mouse's Nest by John Clare

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And progged it as I passed and went away;
And when I looked I fancied something stirred,
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird —
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheats
With all her young ones hanging at her teats;
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me,
I ran and wondered what the thing could be,
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood;
Then the mouse hurried from the craking brood.
The young ones squeaked, and as I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o'er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun. 


Audience Comments
A delight to see a performance of such professionalism - the poems came alive, every word lingered over. Such beautiful words and images. The voices, spoken and sung, worked together so harmoniously, and really evoked the life and times of Clare. It was so energetic too in terms of performance, the poems acted out.

I very much enjoyed the performance. It was a great insight into the life of John Clare and his poetry, and I also enjoyed the poetry - I also enjoyed the singing and the music -the show was entertaining and engaging.

Unfamiliar with the poetry of John Clare though visited his cottage in Helpston. Will certainly read more of his work after this very entertaining event.

I loved hearing the poems read so well. I enjoyed the lovely singing and playing. A pleasant and informative evening. I learnt a lot and had lots of responses to the poetry.

A lovely evening's entertainment. I enjoyed the readings and particularly the singing. My admiration to the singer's fast changes!

Such a lovely evening I really enjoyed the variety - the singing, music and poetry. The stories of the countryside reminded me of my childhood in Berkshire - picking berries and leaves from hedgerows

Lovely! Such a mixture of poems, Songs and narrative - never boring, often moving

Love the combination of poetry and biography. Very dynamic, full of energy. Fantastic performers, they clearly love the material. Lovely flowing style. Quite funny as well.

Educational and entertaining, it introduced me to Clare's poetry in a dramatic and fun way. Enjoyed the songs and the snippets about John Clare's life.

A delightful evening. A great introduction and celebration of John Clare's life and work. It has inspired me to re-read his poems.

Delightful. Thoughtful. Well put together and high standard. A thoroughly enjoyable event.

A very thought-provoking insight into a poet I was not very familiar with but now am enthused to research. Expressive and emotive readings of his work and interesting musical contributions.

Very well researched. The selected verse was poignant and well read. Emphasises what extraordinary genius Clare 'the peasant poet' possessed. The music worked well to illustrate Clare's extraordinary journey.

A welcome glimpse into a relatively unknown yet original figure whose writings are vividly informed by first hand and, at times, loving observation. Presented with great sympathy, immediacy and humour.

A very lively and accomplished performance. The singing and piano accompaniment enhanced the evening too.

Taught me a huge amount about John Clare. The poems were well read and presented. Bravo!

Enjoyable evening of Clare's poetry, beautifully narrated by Trio Literati tracing John Clare's life, ably supported by charming folk songs, sung by Eleanor Rastall.

Splendid evening. Trio Literati brought John Clare's poetry to life and the musical interludes enhanced the rustic nature of the poetry. An exhilarating experience.

Entertaining, informative and engaging - well chosen material delivered with poise and enthusiasm. Each performer brought his/her own distinctive style to a cohesive whole - masterly performance.

Extraordinarily good. Trio Lit has caught the very essence of John Clare.

An entertaining and moving experience. The actors and musicians wove together a lovely evening. Thank you.

The production was very professional and well rehearsed. Articulate and animated speakers. Vocalist (soprano) enjoyable. Content of production thought-provoking, moving ???? describe Clare's life in detail.

A very pleasant evening, enjoyed the music in particular.

Excellent music and poems - I will start to read his stuff now. Thanks.

Hadn't seen Trio Literati before - but was interested in the subject. An enjoyable event.

A revelation! Thank you.

Excellent! Very informative!

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