One of the UK’s most prolific playwrights and the author of the infamously rarely performed Saved, Edward Bond is both socially responsive and passionately fearless in voice and scope. Saved has been surrounded with almost legendary furore since its first performance in 1965 [read A Younger Theatre’s feature on Saved]. It explores and exposes the drama and violence at the heart of our world, the things that make us human. In light of the Lyric Hammersmith’s recent production and what Bond describes as the “moral opacity” of the summer’s riots, his insights into the state of our society have found yet another level of relevancy.
Something Bond makes immediately clear is that he did not write Saved knowing – or hoping – it would cause an outcry. “I thought two things. One was that I was writing about the lives many – perhaps most – people live and that it was necessary to raise these problems in society. Two: as a young child, I had lived through the most destructive of all wars. I knew the potential for violence – it is part of the human condition, at least for the present time. I was dealing not with one class of people but with a much wider problem; the problem of all human beings, the problem of being human.” There is a direct link between our lives and the problems of society: we are responsible for what has gone wrong in the world. Bond confesses that his formative years informed his awareness that “in war worse things are done”. Yet Saved is set in peacetime, a paradox intended to question our hypocritical acceptance of what kinds of violence are tolerable. Wryly observing, “I know of no ‘gang’ that has stoned a baby to death… drama drives social tensions to an extreme in order to understand society’s hidden contradictions.” When drama does this it is “so that the community can establish what humanness is within its society – and the arbiter of this must not be authority but the individuals who make up society.”
For Bond, humans are “the dramatic species. We are human only because we can dramatise the conflicting elements that go into our nature – needs such as food and housing, emotions, knowledge, the home, the city, school, the family – all our experience has to be inter-related so that we can manage our lives. Indeed, in doing this we are actually creating our ‘self’. No other animal has to do this. Each one of us is a dramatist every day of our lives.” This is quite different from the performance of plays. “The stage is ‘formal, public drama’ where the critical and social dramas that all communities have to resolve are staged and enacted.” Theatre is not about escapism for Bond. It “is the opposite of entertainment: it is a far deeper experience because it is, in effect, as real as life itself. It is like being in love, having children, fighting for what matters to you, caring for the vulnerable. Entertainment gives you the necessary relief of escaping from the problems of being human – drama gives you the profound satisfaction of being human.”
“We think serious drama is documentary or reportage, and that the rest is imagination and fantasy. This is a mistake. Drama concerns the deepest human reality and only drama can recreate this in a formal way.” Is this, then, what Saved tries to do? “Magazines, films, other media, can report and document and discuss, but only drama can enter the deepest resources of the human self. It’s why all civilisations have had to create their own drama or some substitutes for it. The substitutes are always forms of control.” The subject of control is particularly poignant when discussing Saved, which was initially censored due to the aforementioned stoning scene. Yet it was eventually integral to the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK, affirming Bond’s belief that “only drama can be the source of freedom and the challenge to be free. This makes drama the basis of democracy.”
In Bond’s eyes, the problems facing drama now go far beyond the boundaries of theatre stalls or performance spaces. “Drama is now owned by the media: by Hollywood, Bollywood, Lollywood, TV, popular magazines, video games and so on. They are all expensive to make and are made to make profit. And so they are a form of intellectual junk food. Just as junk food is enjoyed – eating it is ‘entertaining’ – so media trash is ‘entertaining’. But junk food ruins the body and we become addicted to it – and junk media rots the mind and we become addicted to it.”
As for the relationship between these observations and the Lyric’s revival of Saved, Bond defines the link as close: “In the last few decades our society has become more unjust. The gap between rich and poor grows and with it the gap between what money can buy – education, housing, privileges, health (the rich live longer) – and what others must do without. This was disguised by the general increase in consumption.” In isolation, this is a hopeless vision of a fruitless future, but Bond has already looked ahead for a solution. “Drama shows that humans seek profound respect and the power to create their self, not just more consumer goods to eat or dress up in. Humans are not animals with appetites that can be satisfied in animal ways. There is a paradox – and drama is always full of paradoxes.”
In relation to August’s riots, Bond observes that “when young people rioted they were dramatising their frustration and resentment – and because they did not understand their situation they attacked their own neighbours and neighbourhoods. In the past rioters attacked mansions, palaces, law courts, legislatures. Why did these rioters loot only local shops? Really because they did not understand themselves or their situation: the real causes of their problems. That is why we need drama – but now even that is being turned into another product!”
It is this predicament – this consumerisation of drama – that prevented Bond from allowing Saved to be staged in this country for many years. “The ‘money media’ had made it impossible for directors and actors to represent their society truthfully on the stage.” For Bond, acting is not pretending but “enacting” and this art had been lost. “Everything became superficial fantasy. This really goes to the heart of our social problem and its dangers. Our public culture denies us the means of understanding ourselves. That is why young people must recreate these means.” There was something about the present time – the fact that “the problem was becoming urgent” – that led Bond to allow the Lyric’s production. “The director [Sean Holmes] understood the problems in the way I’ve described them. And so it was possible to make the ‘play’ ‘work’ – and these two ‘opposite’ words make a paradox that shows how vital drama is to our future.”
What is Bond’s vision for that future? “The modern world changes very quickly but it doesn’t understand itself. People who are young now must learn to understand it or they will become victims of their culture’s – the world’s – ignorance. In fact knowledge may be destructive because it is not the same thing as ‘understanding’. Understanding depends on values and drama is the great source of human values. I’ve said each of us has to ‘create’ her or himself – but drama is the only way we can create our shared ‘human self’, without which there is no community.”
A challenge, then, to find ourselves and carve our own future. We must be proud to take up this call to arms, spurred on by Bond’s final comment: “your voices must be heard.”
To celebrate the release of Edward Bond Plays: 9 (RRP: £16.99) from Methuen Drama, we are pleased to offer AYT readers an exclusive 25% discount courtesy of Macmillan Distribution.
AYT readers can order any Edward Bond Play, including any of the nine Bond Plays collections, at a special 25% discount and with FREE UK P&P, by calling Macmillan Distribution on (01256) 302699 and quoting offer code GLR6NE, or ordering online at http://www.acblack.com/drama, entering code GLR6NE at the checkout.
This discount is available for one week until 30 November 2011.