Twenty-five years ago a highly controversial and darkly powerful play about the social causes of violence was removed from the public eye. Edward Bond’s seminal play, bravely revived by director Sean Holmes and the Lyric Hammersmith, has been an extremely eagerly anticipated production in London and it does not fail to live up to the hype. Playing an important role in the abolition of theatre censorship, Saved deals with working class depression, human instinct and brutality. At times so difficult to watch that audience members literally whimpered out loud whilst covering their eyes and squirming in their seats, this production is not for the easily disturbed. Saved delivers the same kind of sickening feeling in the stomach that some of the big-name ‘torture-porn’ horror movies do: “Why, oh why did I agree to watch this?”
The stage looks like a glaring medical room, dressed with shabby furniture in gloomy autumn hues. The first scene has the audience chuckling as two pivotal characters, Len (Morgan Watkins) and Pam (Lia Saville) discuss their imminent intercourse with no more romance or subtlety than if they were discussing the price of bread. These two young actors deliver Bond’s snappy and rambunctious text with clarity and vigour and we are instantly drawn into their story. We are soon introduced to a bunch of rough-talking lads played by Bradley Gardner, Joel Gillman, Calum Callaghan, Tom Padley and Billy Seymour. This gang eventually riot against society in an act of horrifying physical aggression that, according to Bond, represents the logic of rage. Whether or not acts of violence this extreme should be played out on the stage is a debate that I am sure will continue indefinitely, but it raises an interesting point about the power of theatre to influence and affect its spectators.
The play does not give a day-by-day account of the lives of this group of people, but rather each scene serves as a record of a particular point in a sequence of events, jumping days, weeks and months between each event leaving the audience to piece together the missing information. Each smooth transition sees numerous actors and stage managers bringing on tables, chairs and more with military precision, whilst the audience are uncomfortably left listening to white noise.
The theme of communication, or rather the lack of it, is key to this production and we see the characters often in silence, unable to physically touch each other or express their emotions, and at times the characters fail to hear anything that is said to them at all. We are forced to look at our own relationships and how we respond to others, relating to what we see whilst furiously hoping that our lives are not as futile and insignificant. At one point, the family is sat in their living room listening to the baby cry from upstairs for at least ten minutes whilst they argued about who should go to see to its needs. I felt myself wanting to run upstairs and comfort it myself. The play’s final scene also pushes the audience to the limit with a prolongued period of awkward silence, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about whether anything is to be resolved and reminding us of the cyclical nature of day-to-day life.
Usually audiences are willing to suspend their disbelief in order to get the most out of a theatrical experience, and yet watching Saved I found myself looking around the auditorium just to reassure myself that what I was witnessing was make-believe. To say this is an enjoyable performance would be far from the truth, but is it an important and emotional experience? I would say yes.
Photo by Simon Kane