Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976
'Saved By Edward Bond, Directed at Unity Theatre by Stephen McElrea
'Saved By Edward Bond, Directed at Unity Theatre by Stephen McElrea.
Edward Bond's powerful and savage play purports to examine the violent nature of society. His characters are enmeshed in a complex series of volcanic relationships which can only be resolved by vehement erruption. It is a world without pleasure and full of pain; an animal kingdom where only the strong survive. But even the strong are subject to, and kept in control by 'outside forces'.
Unfortunately, this play has dated rather noticeably, and despite Stephen McElrea's laudable attempts to transpose it from its British working class setting to the approximate NZ equivalent, 'Saved' has remarkably little to offer us. Bond is trying very hard to shock us into some form of wakefulness: 'What I hope happens in Saved is that an audience better realises the nature of its society, what the nature of its problems are and therefore what solutions are needed.' By saying this. Bond strikes me as being essentially naive. If the realisation is too horrific, then people will choose to look the other way. But then, Bond himself give no indication that he has realised the 'true nature of the problem', because he has no viable solution. He cannot expect anyone to realise a solution through his play when he has attacked the wrong problem.
He shows us the working class attitudes to love, sex, marriage, street gangs and violence which culminate in the notorious baby-stoning scene. What he does not do is give us the overall picture of society in the samw way that playwrights like David Hare and Howard Barker do. A working class cannot exist on its own. It doesn't take too long to realise that Bond's playing is showing effects, not causes. The problems it reveals are symptomatice of something else, and this nebulous 'something else' is what Bond fails to come to grips with.
In many ways it is a pity that McElrea's 'street-corner society' exists in a vacuum like this, when the ideas behind his adaptation contain so much potential. James Moriarty as the Maori gang members was an intriguing subject for a play in his own right. Tony Burton's schizoid and violently unbalanced characterisation of Pete seemed too large for the play and extended into something else that was far more frightening.
The introduction of a real baby made the stoning scene all the more viscious; but even with these imaginative characterisations and touches, the overall quality of the production was ragged and spasmodic.
In many places it needed a tighter rein. Margaret Burnett as Pam lacked direction; Sean Duffy's characterisation of Len was too vague and wishy-washy.
The play proceeded in series of short scenes punctuated by prolonged blackouts. Because the play relies for its effect on the build up of tension and aggression throughout, these black holes did not make the actor's tasks much easier by allowing everything to evaporate.
Although the production lacked basic spirit and energy, it was certainly an imaginative re-appraisal of Bond's play in the light of a NZ experience. However, even with the vest available technical assistance Avalon had to offer - plus support from the Rothman's Cultural Foundation, the end result was a little disappointing. 'Saved' leaves the impression that no one is really saved at all: "All's cheerless dark and deadly" and the audience is left feeling disconsolate and confused about the value of their experience. As I walked away from the theatre I could not help but think: 'So that was Bond's "Saved".'
- Richard Mays