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The nightingale's nest

Anchor Clare

The idea


The poet, John Clare, during his time in Northampton asylum, believed he was Shakespeare and Burns and others who came before him; asserted he and they were one voice. Although this belief came from his mental illness, Clare’s work is, like theirs, timeless, particularly in his deep observations about the natural world and opposition to the enclosures and harm this caused to the fields, streams and woods near his home. Clare's sensibilities, amid the breakdown of the natural world and failing of his sense of identity linked to place, set him apart from other poets of the time and make him ever more true to our own.


William Knight was Clare's superintendent in Northampton asylum and became his friend.  During this time, he played a key role in the creation and survival of some of Clare's finest poetry. Because of our ageing population in England, the challenge of cognitive decline and enormous stress this places on our mental health services are ever more important themes, and behind this are the stories of our health-workers, who like Knight, face the decline of people they care for each day.

These ideas are explored in a new play by Peter Daldorph, developed alongside film-maker James Murray White. A funding application to the Arts Council seeks support for the staging and filming of play, as well as developing a digital 'ecosystem' around the performances to help make his voice live in our time and introduce it to new audiences.


Clare's statue in Helpston

We plan to:

  1. Develop a stage play (already in draft) and theatre tour in Eastern England.

  2. Film the play (during an extended dress rehearsal)

  3. Arrange a tour of screenings of the film with talks on key themes of the play

  4. Film readings by our actors of key pieces of Clare's writing related to the play

  5. Film interviews with experts on Clare and the subject matter of the play, including the enclosures and mental health related to a loss of sense of place. 

  6. Hold events with the Clare Study Group and Clare Society to share our work with the 'Clare community'

  7. Create an digital 'eco-system' of outputs to share on-line.


The other pages on this website show examples of our 'eco-system' approach (click here). 

Film-maker James Murray Whites previous work on John Clare

Readings from the play

The readings below are short parts of the stage play read by the writer, Peter Daldorph.  He is not an actor and no effort has been made to perform as Clare. Hopefully, however, they will give some sense of the play. Because the majority of the play is in the form or a dialogue between Clare and Knight, only sections are cjosen, where Clare's speech is extended, or he addresses the audience.

The nightingale

Clare takes Knight to a place in the grounds of Northamton asylum where he has heard a nightingale sing.

Clare's letter

Knight sees Clare write a letter and asks him about it. The letter is a real one that survives from Clare's time in Northampton asylum.

Consonants lost

Clare talks directly to the audience. Clare is known to have thought he was being watched while in the asylum; the audience plays this role.

Invite to eternity

Clare is known to have had little memory of the poetry he wrote while in the asylum. Knight reads this poem to show him what he has achieved whilst there.

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