Playwright Edward Bond

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Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:48 pm

In praise of… Edward Bond

Although the playwright is honoured more in France than in Britain, he remains a major figure overdue for reassessment

Editorial

guardian.co.uk, Monday 3 October 2011 20.55 BST

Edward Bond has never fitted snugly into the polite world of British theatre. His early plays were attacked for their abrasive violence; his later plays have often been glibly dismissed as Marxist parables. But, although Bond is honoured more in France than in Britain, he remains a major figure overdue for reassessment – a process that should be aided by the revival of Saved at the Lyric Hammersmith. When it first appeared in 1965, Saved caused an almighty uproar because of a pivotal baby-stoning scene that prompted a prosecution of the Royal Court for supposed evasion of the rules of theatrical censorship. But what really gave offence was Bond's argument that violence was not inherent in mankind but the inescapable product of an unjust society, a theme that Bond has explored with rigour. He examined the isolation of the artist in plays such as Bingo and The Fool, which deal respectively with Shakespeare and John Clare. He used history as his canvas in works like The Woman and Restoration. In his dystopian trilogy, The War Plays, he depicted life after a nuclear holocaust. Whatever Bond's chosen form, there is a stark, lapidary power to his writing and a belief that human dignity will be compromised until we create a more equitable society. Bond has never been a comfortable writer, and he resembled a prophet crying in the wilderness. But following this summer's urban riots, Bond's Saved may seem like a piece of accurate social testimony from the theatre's most anguished moralist.

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:53 pm

Bingo – review

Young Vic, London

Michael Billington

guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 February 2012 18.30 GMT


Full of contradictions … Stewart as William Shakespeare. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

When Angus Jackson's fine production of Edward Bond's bony masterpiece was first seen in Chichester two years ago, a respected colleague attacked the author for his assumption of moral superiority over Shakespeare. But I don't see it that way. Bond's play is a guilt-ridden indictment of all poets and dramatists, himself included, for their exploitation of suffering and cruelty. "Every writer," as Bond's Shakespeare claims, "writes in other men's blood."

You could argue for ever about whether that is a just charge. But what matters is the dramatic conviction of Bond's portrait of Shakespeare in his Stratford retirement. This is the Bard who once wrote of "the dark house and the detested wife": a brooding, isolated figure who is bourgeois enough to protect his profits as a landowner, but who is also haunted by the public execution of a female vagrant whom he has vainly tried to protect. With extraordinary poetic economy, Bond evokes the horrors of Shakespeare's world. In place of Merrie England, we get a panoramic portrait of religious persecution, judicial severity and ubiquitous violence. In an image I find hard to erase, Bond's Shakespeare talks of "Women with shopping bags stepping over puddles of blood".

Patrick Stewart superbly reinforces Bond's vision by giving us a tragic Shakespeare, but also one alive to his own contradictions: he craves financial security but tells his nagging daughter that "money always turns to hate", is brusquely business-like with a rich landowner like William Combe yet strangely relaxed with a wander-witted gardener. I have known Lears who have moved me less. Richard McCabe relishes every syllable of a wildly drunken, biliously jealous Ben Jonson and, although Alex Price needs to attend to his diction as a puritan zealot, there is first-rate support from John McEnery, Matthew Marsh and Catherine Cusack. It's an evening that confirms Bond's 1973 play has achieved the status of a modern classic.

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:59 pm

Edward Bond: an old-fashioned visionary

His persona has tended to overshadow his works, but The Sea reveals Bond to be an erudite observer of human dilemmas


Bonding with Edward ... Eileen Atkins (Louise Rafi) in The Sea, Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

With Edward Bond, it can be difficult to see the plays for the man. His iconic place in the 60s and 70s British establishment and subsequent estrangement; his outspokenness about the political, theatrical and social agenda of his plays; those lengthy prose prefaces; even his intriguing persona as a kind of fierce, visionary Prospero, stomping about in East Anglian exile introducing youth groups to brave new worlds and drowning his Brecht in the Cam. All this means that fans of theatre are more likely to be familiar with his performance as a person than a performance of one of his plays.

So it was with pleasure, relief and even a little surprise that I watched Jonathan Kent's production of The Sea a few nights ago, in the play's first ever West End run, and realised that it's actually good. It works. It made me laugh, and feel sad, and really think about, as Bond himself puts it, "the moral and political paths people could take in the situation the world was in".

Moreover, contrary to what all the theorising led me to believe, the play triumphs because of the people rather than the "situation". In The Sea, that situation is the stultifying confines of a high Edwardian seaside village, wracked by storms and the small-minded snobbery of a self-destructing society. Bond's examination of that society provokes some truly funny satire, particularly when Eileen Atkins' bullying matriarch Mrs Rafi inflicts her frustrated thespian outpourings on her posse of cringing ladies as they rehearse the village play. His emancipating, humanitarian message is certainly an admirable one; in a later scene, Rafi's ignored and patronised gardener Hollarcut (Russell Tovey) asserts his belittled humanity with a touching, rough passion.

However, most of the incidental characters that make up that "society" - the bumbling vicar, the fainting women - are predictable cliches rather than people. Hollarcut is really nothing but a mouthpiece, and his one-dimensional dim-wittedness contradicts his own case for enfranchisement. Rose, Rafi's pale, stiff niece, and Willy Carson, friend of Rose's drowned fiance, are gauche symbols of stifled youth and youthful hope, and appear to have wandered in from a badly acted Chekhov, all rigid arms and Solemn. Meaningful. Statements.

But it still works, and the strengths of both production and play are exemplified in three luminous monologues, which stand out like glittering surf upon a big, vague sea. First, David Haig's Hatch, a paranoid draper battered by Rafi's imperious demands, reaches a painful, hilarious epiphany as he slashes her cloth in a physically inspired tragi-comic rant; soon after, Atkins delivers a masterclass in wry despair as Rafi imagines helpless old age; and in a final scene the "wise fool", reclusive drunk Evens (David Burke), muses on the vestiges of hope and choice in an apocalyptic world. The acting is extraordinary - Atkins should certainly be as publicly celebrated as Dames Judi and Maggie, despite failing to appear on Parky or in Potter - and the whole play finds its heart in these intense, vulnerable speeches. They have a broad social message, but they work because, against the rangy farce and melodrama of the other scenes, they ring with the pain and particularity of truth, and an exhausted insight that has been hard won from life.

"What we have to do," says Bond, "is find a way of integrating the individual dilemma with the social problem." Well, The Sea doesn't, but it doesn't matter. The individual dilemma is far more interesting, alive and authentic than the social problem in this show - and a rewarding, despairing, redemptive expression of that dilemma it is too.

In this sense, I found Bond, who Mark Ravenhill has celebrated as being so ahead of his time, and who is famous for the brutality and originality of plays such as Saved and Early Morning, really quite old-fashioned. I admire Bond's erudition, his vision and his vim; but the best bits of The Sea prove that the theatre that really touches us involves very human people being very human.

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:04 pm

Edward Bond, Saved, November 1965

Edward Bond play and its baby-stoning scene beat the censors and divided critics in November 1965

Samantha Ellis

The Guardian, Wednesday 23 April 2003 10.26 BST

The Lord Chamberlain's office slammed a ban on Edward Bond's second play, Saved. But where there was censorship, there were also loopholes. So the Royal Court, staunch defender of the notion that "a play needs to be shown as it was written", turned itself temporarily into a club theatre to stage the play's premiere on November 3 1965. The scene that most riled the censor was one in which a baby was stoned to death. The critics were equally horrified. "One of the nastiest scenes I have ever sat through," said Jeremy Kingston in Punch. "More horrible than anything in The House of Fred Ginger [another 1960s play about infanticide], if no more horrible than some episodes in Titus Andronicus," said the Guardian's Philip Hope-Wallace.

The Telegraph's WA Darlington felt "no sense of horror, no dramatic illusion. I knew there was no baby in the pram, just as I could see there were no stones in the actors' hands. My only emotion was a cold disgust at being asked to sit through such a scene." Darlington dubbed leading lady Barbara Ferris "a young virago with a screech that afflicts the ear-drums". He added: "The best scene for me was the last one, when they'd all yelled themselves into exhaustion and were no longer on speaking terms anyway."

Bond's brutal, uncompromising vision of south-London thuggery provoked questions about the nature of theatre. "One can no longer take cover behind the phrase 'bad taste' in the face of such material. But one has a right to demand what purpose it fulfils," wrote the Times's critic, who felt that Bond's "blockishly naturalistic piece, full of dead domestic longueurs and slavishly literal bawdry", would "supply valuable ammunition to those who attack modern drama as half-baked, gratuitously violent and squalid".

The Illustrated London News critic said "the piece, cautionary as it is, has the resolve to shock", but praised Bond's "ear for the loose lingo of vicious teenagers and the semi-articulate banalities of their elders. He produces the dialogue faithfully and (so it seems) without bothering to select." This was a problem for the Sunday Times critic. "Things as horrible as this baby-killing... happen every day; but... without the shaping hand of art in the writing, the result is only reporting." He also felt that some of the scenes were "designed to titillate".

The Royal Court, now run by William Gaskill, who also directed Saved, had a reputation for what the Daily Mail's Peter Lewis called "experiment and shock", and the punters knew what they were in for. Nevertheless, some walked out. "It is not often in that hardened audience that you hear the cry 'revolting' and 'dreadful' and the smack of seats being vacated, but you did last night," wrote Lewis. Yet he went on to defend Saved as "a moral play": "It is impossible to be indifferent to the characters' indifference."

He was not the only defender. Laurence Olivier wrote to the Observer: "Saved is not a play for children but it is for grown-ups and the grown-ups of this country should have the courage to look at it." US novelist Mary McCarthy praised its "remarkable delicacy". But Saved set a pattern for the reception of Bond's plays. Now he is rarely staged here. None the less, he has inspired a generation of British playwrights, particularly the "New Brutalists", including Sarah Kane, whose play, Blasted, opened at the Royal Court 30 years after Bond's, and elicited similar responses. She once told an interviewer that the stoning scene showed her "there isn't anything you can't represent on stage".

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:07 pm

Letters

Why I fell out with Edward Bond

The Guardian, Wednesday 9 January 2008

Could I respond to Edward Bond's latest attempt to rewrite history ('If you're going to despair, stop writing'; He was one of Britain's most shocking, uncompromising playwrights. Then he fell out of favour, January 3)? Of course I never returned the script of Restoration to him with notes in the margin. To do so to one of the Royal Court's iconic writers would indeed have been handing a hostage to fortune. To my certain recollection I have never responded to any writer thus. The only thing that is "uncanny" is how Edward's recollection of events always ends with him in a position of impregnable moral rectitude.

My recollection is that the disagreements I had with Edward over Restoration were mainly economic. The play was predicted to be and indeed was the most expensive production thus far in the Royal Court's history. But any attempt to moderate expenditure was regarded as wooden-headed and philistine. His own proposed solution was to raise the budgeted box office income from 40% to 70%. In the event, Restoration played to 37% of box-office capacity.

But in fact my rupture with Edward came a few years later, after the Royal Court had revived The Pope's Wedding and Saved. I recall that during the interval of the first preview of Danny Boyle's fine production of Saved, I observed Edward and Danny in conversation about the production. Afterwards Danny seemed stunned and disconsolate. I concluded shortly after this that collaboration was impossible for Edward. This was reinforced by a production of the War Plays which Edward undertook himself at the Barbican and which reduced a talented cast into a stumbling and incoherent shambles of walking wounded.

Edward Bond is simply the most difficult person I have worked with in 40 years. I believe this may go some way to explaining why his work is so infrequently seen in this country.

Max Stafford Clark
Out of Joint theatre company

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:15 pm

Edward Bond's Saved: 'We didn't set out to shock'

With its swearing and its baby-stoning, Saved shocked Britain in 1965. Will the play do so again? Maddy Costa talks to the original cast – and asks Edward Bond why he finally allowed a revival

Maddy Costa

guardian.co.uk, Sunday 9 October 2011 21.31 BST


Shocking … (back row from left) Dennis Waterman, Ronald Pickup and Tony Selby in the original production of Edward Bond's Saved. Photograph: Copyright Zoe Dominic

In the autumn of 1965 Ronald Pickup was at the Royal Court in London, rehearsing a new play called Saved, alongside Tony Selby and a teenager called Dennis Waterman. The three young men were trying to get to grips with a troubling scene in which they lark about with a baby in its pram, poking it, pulling off its nappy, goading each other until they stone it to death.

Pickup, now 71, recalls the "horrible, infinitesimal detail of how accurate you had to be, partly because you didn't want stones bouncing off the pram into the audience". He softens his voice to imitate the director, William Gaskill, telling them: "'It's a very delicate sort of play, we've got to do it really delicately.' He dealt with it so gently," says Pickup, "that the full impact of it only crept up on us."

Saved, the second and most famous play by Edward Bond, was to theatre in the 1960s what John Osborne's Look Back in Anger had been the decade before: a seething controversy whose violence redefined the possibilities of drama. Set in south-east London, it shows a young man, Len, struggling to find hope as the girl he loves gives birth to another man's unwanted child, and her parents tear each other apart.

Modern British audiences haven't much of a relationship with it, however. Since the 1980s, when his new work began to fall out of favour in this country, Bond has harboured a dim view of British theatre; while he has been happy for students to stage Saved, he turns down approaches from the professional theatre every year. The new production at the Lyric Hammersmith – helmed by Sean Holmes, one of the few directors Bond holds in high regard – is the play's first major showing in London since 1985.

Saved is now considered a masterpiece, celebrated for its role in the fight to abolish theatre censorship (which finally happened in 1968), and as a prime influence on modern playwrights. But those present at the Royal Court in 1965 were less sure. "It is not often in that hardened audience you hear the cry 'Revolting' and 'Dreadful' and the smack of seats vacated, but you did last night," commented Peter Lewis, theatre critic for the Daily Mail, in one of the relatively positive reviews. RB Marriott of the Stage found its depiction of working-class Londoners leading desperate, dead-end lives "sensitive" and tinged with "compassion", while the US novelist and theatre critic Mary McCarthy echoed Gaskill in praising its "remarkable delicacy".

But most critics, it seemed, were damning and vituperative. They despised Bond's characters, his "slavishly literal bawdry", the lack of artistry in his writing. In particular, the baby stoning scene, which filled the Telegraph's WA Darlington with "cold disgust", was condemned as the "ugliest", "nastiest", "most sickening and revolting" exercise in "brutality" ever seen on the modern stage.

"It was a bit frightening," says Pickup. "Something had erupted in the audience. We knew the play was going to be controversial, but one perhaps expected a more considered reaction." Gaskill, who had found the play abandoned on a shelf at the Royal Court and decided to stage it the moment he read it, was equally taken aback. "It's very important to remember we didn't set out to shock," he says. "I thought people would see that it's a good play. That was what shocked me more than anything: the fact that people didn't realise quite what a good play it was."

Strictly speaking, Gaskill shouldn't have staged Saved at all. The Lord Chamberlain, as theatre censor, had refused to license the play for public performance unless the baby stoning scene was cut, as well as a sexually suggestive episode in which a young man darns the stocking of an older woman while she is wearing it, and all uses of the words "arse", "bugger", "crap" and "shag". Bond refused. "I have rarely been as offended in my life as I was by that," he says. So Gaskill dubbed the Court a private club theatre for these performances. Not surprisingly, the censor saw through the ploy, and one night in December Gaskill was apprehended by police in the foyer. The following March, a sympathetic magistrate found the theatre at fault, but handed out a mere £50 fine.

Censorship aside, the production had its ordinary share of problems. There had been issues with casting, particularly the older woman: most actors were as appalled as the censor by the stockings scene. And Bond remembers with amusement Gaskill delaying rehearsals of the final scene, which is performed in almost complete silence, because he thought it wasn't finished. "He said, 'You've got to write the words.' I said, 'No, it has to be silent.'" In addition, the Chester-born, middle-class Pickup struggled with the south London accent, unlike cockneys Waterman and Selby.

Although Waterman declined to talk about his role, Selby is happy to. Now 73, he recalls Bond saying to him during rehearsals: "You obviously understand this play." The actor explains: "I understood it intuitively, because I came from a working-class background. Saved is about ignoring young life. The baby is a sacrifice. In actual fact, the baby is saved. It's saved from a nonexistent life." He had seen bored, neglected kids in nearby Battersea park hurling stones at squirrels: from there to killing the baby, he argues, takes "only one little leap of the imagination".

It's a fair point, which raises the question: why did Saved cause such a storm? Critics had already witnessed, in 1962, the death of a child at the hands of teenage delinquents in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger, also staged by Gaskill. Pickup points out that the early 1960s had introduced the "theatre of cruelty" to Britain, and "the notion that theatre was going to get down and dirty". Selby adds that Up the Junction and Three Clear Sundays – films he made with Ken Loach for the BBC in 1965, which dealt with teenage sex, abortion and the death penalty – were part of a similar movement in "progressive television".

In his book on theatre censorship, Politics, Prudery and Perversions, Nicholas de Jongh suggests it was the violence of Bond's "real-life, demotic speech" that horrified his audience. Certainly, the Times's Irving Wardle retracted his criticisms in 1966, admitting: "What really got to me was that these people spoke like urban cavemen."

Bond finds this argument persuasive, but believes people were most disturbed by an accusation that lay beneath the surface of the play: that the violence of Auschwitz and Hiroshima was not locked in the past but embedded in the fabric of British society, ready to erupt from a frustrated underclass. "I wanted to show that we are destructive of human values," he says. "The people who are killing the baby are doing it to gain their self-respect, because they want to assert human values."

As Pickup says, "The play touches on something so difficult to face about human nature. One learned a bit about life. It made you realise how a harried enough landscape, having no prospects, maybe violent parents, does create this sort of culture." By placing the stoning scene relatively early in the play, before the interval, Bond forces his audiences to appreciate the extent to which they collude in the devaluation of humanity.

When he started writing Saved, Bond didn't intend the baby to die: the young men were merely going to "set fire to something in a park. But what drama does is push things to an extreme." Although his setting was recognisably contemporary, "I was actually pointing to the future". That's why he has finally allowed Holmes to stage Saved – something Holmes has requested permission to do on and off for the last 10 years. "The future is now here," says Bond. "This is going to be the worst government we've had since the 1930s: they're not in control of what they're doing, and when that happens people become vicious."

The violence in human nature

Watching Holmes rehearse the play, what's striking is the vivid modernity of the characters' voices. Stage Saved as a period piece, he says, and "you protect the audience from the full shock of the play". But then, in a 21st century saturated in violent images and stories of war, terrorism, abuse of adults and children, will audiences still be shocked by a baby-stoning? "I think they will be, because they need to be," says Calum Callaghan, who plays Fred, the infant's father. "If people can watch it and not be bothered, that just shows you how hopeless things are."

For Holmes, however, "What's really shocking about the play is the vulnerability and humanity of everyone in it, how delicate they are despite the world they live in doing everything to squeeze that out of them." It's that word again, delicate. It's telling that Holmes, who first encountered Saved in a student production when he was 17, has no recollection of witnessing the baby's death. "I remember the sewing of the stocking, I remember the silent scene at the end, I remember the characters fishing. I'd never seen anything like it."

He's not the only one: despite photographs proving otherwise, Selby is adamant that his character "didn't throw a stone". You can't really blame him for forgetting: he is talking about a play he was in 46 years ago. But what Bond exposes in Saved is our capacity to deny the violence in human nature – the kind of violence Bond saw evidence of in Coventry just a few years ago, when he heard a parent say to a child: "If you don't shut up, I'll kill you."

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Re: Playwright Edward Bond

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:32 pm

^

On the subject of (alleged) obscenity, Bond stated in a recent interview that the most obscene thing he's seen recently was "Slumdog Millionaire".

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