Thursday, October 01, 2009

Saved, by Edward Bond

Bond, Edward. Saved. Plays: One. London: The Master Playwrights, 1977
by Susana Cook

I don’t think it’s possible to “like” Edward Bond’s play Saved. Critics discuss its meanings, make interpretations, find intentions, and award value to the play as a classic. But it’s certainly not a play to enjoy. The images displayed onstage are harsh and disgusting. Some critics see Bond as a successor of Brecht and see his plays as a political tool that sends a message of hope through the horrific scenes. The intention of the author is not to entertain us; he seems to have a mission, and his writing is a commentary about the state of world, the consequences of capitalism, and the brutality of poverty. Bond’s intentions are change and protest. Rejected by most critics in the 1960s, the play is considered, after many years, a classic of British literature. I am interested in seeing why the super-violent images depicted onstage seem to have taken a life of their own and created an impact and fascination in so many people’s minds and a revolution in British theater.
“Saved represents the London underclass of the 1960s,” we read in every glossary and review of the time. Saved is not the story of a random group of people--it claims to be a naturalistic representation of a whole social group: the poor working class. It seems as if by going to see this play, the audience will learn something they don’t know about the “underclass,” that something new will be revealed to them, that they will confront a reality hidden to their eyes (unless, of course, they were part of the social group represented onstage. But in that case they probably wouldn’t be at the theater.) The implied assumption that members of the actual underclass would not be among the audience members, or reading the reviews, and the subtle message that “they are worse than you think,” makes me wonder what is accomplished with this kind of naturalistic representation.
“Violence has always been a tool for Edward Bond through which he criticizes society,” says one of his reviewers. I think that the problematic aspect of this play is that it takes on the task of representing a particular social group as uniform, homogenous, and with a consistent behavior by all the characters throughout the play, with the only exception of Len, who is the one who will be “saved,” apparently. The dehumanization of the underclass presented in Saved makes the characters brutal, amoral, and worse than you could possibly imagine. “Violence shapes and obsesses our society,” says Bond, “It would be immoral not to write about violence.’’ But he is not writing about violence in the play, he is writing and staging violent acts, representations of violence, by people who seem to have lost any trace of humanity, love, and compassion.
In scene 3, Pete, one of the youngsters in the play who had killed another boy with his van, is dressed up to attend the dead boy’s funeral while joking about it. His friends admire him for killing the boy and for getting away with it. Later, in Pam’s living room, we hear a baby crying until she chokes, and nobody pays attention to her. The most famous scene of the play is when the gangsters kill a baby in the park by stoning her to death in her carriage.
I wonder where are we placed as the audience of these excruciating scenes, and what is our role, if any. We are not supposed to be having an enriching or pleasant experience; apparently we are supposed to be learning a moral lesson. The characters seem to be a reflection of a violent, brutal society. They are also the victims of a political system that the author intends to criticize. But the portrayal of the characters is so brutal and pitiless, that as audience we are left with no compassion for the victims of a society he tries to expose and condemn. Rather than identification, we feel disgust and repulsion for their behavior, and we can’t see any kind of perspective in terms of how the system made them into the monsters they are, or how they could be saved from their misery. They seem to be hopelessly lost cases. The play is “irresponsibly optimistic,” says Bond. He sees hope in Len.