Paul Buck

Royal Court Programme 2

December 7, 1965 – January 29, 1966

 

Another pivotal moment on the stage in London occurred in November 1965 when Edward Bond’s play Saved opened at the Royal Court. Whilst the play was attacked by most critics – ‘loathed’ is the word its director William Gaskill used – it attracted attention because it was staged in defiance in its uncensored form, using the conditions of a ‘theatre club’ production, since the Lord Chamberlain’s Office had refused to issue a public performance licence unless two scenes were rewritten. However, this tactic didn’t stop prosecution, or it being found guilty, though ultimately Saved was instrumental in having the redundant practice of theatre censorship removed. Whilst particular obscenities were excused, the main cause for the furore was the park scene in which a baby in its pram is taunted, abused and finally stoned to death by a group of ‘louts’. I put that in inverted commas because Bond, as well as its director Gaskill, would argue that they are not any different from the rest of us, and that is in part the aim of the play. ‘I think what’s marvellous aboutSaved’, wrote Gaskill in the programme for its second season in repertory, ‘is that Bond shows this absolutely clearly – he shows you a sequence of scenes which cover a wide range of people’s existence – both of ordinary life, their love affairs, their home life, and their acts of violence. When the mother hits the father with the teapot it is meant to be an action as violent as the killing of the baby. When Himmler ordered the destruction of Lidice, there are famous descriptions of the way he said goodbye to his wife and kissed his children and to him there was no inconsistency between an absolutely warm sentimental home life and an act of extreme brutality. I think unless you can relate one to the other – unless you are prepared to comprehend both as part of the problem – you will never ever solve the problem or begin to understand it. I think Bond understands that more than anything – that you cannot isolate the act of violence as one of horror.’

 

Penelope Gilliatt’s initial review in The Observer was notable for its defence of the play, making a very pertinent point: ‘Though the vernacular language may make the play look like “a slice of life”, a phrase that is used to mean a very inferior slab of theatrical fruit cake, the truth is that the prose is skilfully stylised. It uses a hard, curt unit of dialogue, a statement of panic masquerading as an attack, hardly ever more than five or six syllables to a line. People don’t elaborate; they stab in the dark, the dagger turns into rubber or a wisp of fog, and the bad dream has already left them behind.’ What Bond wanted to show with his play, his ideas about violence and that society itself is inherently aggressive because society is basically unjust, was probably not understood at the time. ‘There is no way out for our sort of society, an unjust society must be violent.’

 

from Performance, Omnibus, 2012

 

 

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