We all know that Edward Bond's Saved, with it notorious baby-stoning scene, sent the critics into a frothing furore of outrage when it opened in 1965 and that it went on to become the cause célèbre in the campaign against stage censorship. But how lastingly good a play is it? Attempts to tackle that question have been hampered by the fact that there hasn't been a major London revival in 27 years.
In Sean Holmes's austerely eloquent production, Saved emerges as a superbly structured drama of prophetic power. Bond's alienated, rootless, working-class youths, with their stunted speech-patterns and penchant for casual violence, seemed exotic to the original reviewers. As Irving Wardle of The Times remarked in a cogent recantation, because they "didn't live down my street... I leapt to the conclusion that they didn't exist at all outside the playwright's sordid imagination".
Well, there's no chance of avoiding this mentality now in the world of Baby P and rioting for no higher political end than a new pair of trainers. Watching Holmes's hard-hitting, yet sensitive production, I was struck by several related things. One is that the progression of scenes, performed against a stark white backdrop with the actors as stage hands, has a patience and deliberation that grants each of them an equal weight. The episode in which a gang of youths stone an abandoned baby in its pram is presented here with an extraordinary feel for the sickening rhythms whereby puerile joshing escalates to frenzied nihilism. But because Bond refuses to make this violence a sensational climax, he denies you the consolation of blaming it on the universe and forces you think in terms of a rectifiable social wrong.
Another is that all of the characters – from the masochistically devoted, ineffectual Len (Morgan Watkins, excellent if too physically attractive) to Lia Saville's shriekingly self-absorbed Pam – are working class. It's a strategy that helps drive home Bond's point that those deprived of self-respect tend to turn their aggression on one another rather than on their oppressors. But does the dramatist effectively patronise these people by underestimating their capacity for individual responsibility? In the end, no. After such nerve-shredding episodes as the one where the baby's abject cries are ignored because the family is too fecklessly preoccupied with watching telly and banal bickering – the plays ends with the lovely, almost dance-like finale in which Len scrupulously mends a chair. In that taking of control, a glimmer of hope.
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